I Have A Question for the German Fans

For those who may not know it, I was born and reared in the U.S., and for most of my life the Nazis have been a source of ridicule. The lion’s share of the ridicule has been serious with an occasional straying into the humorous ala “The Producers.”

I’ve gone right along with all of it, but now that I interact more regularly with German fans and especially now that Richard Armitage will be playing Heinz Kruger, a Nazi, I find myself being much more sensitive to what you all may find offensive. I was trying to figure this out on my own, but I know that many of you have no problem sharing, so I’m asking you to share your thoughts about this. How do you feel about the Nazis being continually held up as the bad guys? Do you dissociate yourself from them, or do you ever take any of the negative comments personally?

Another reason I ask is because I’m originally from the Southern part of the United States — the area formerly known as the Confederacy (aka Rebels) during our Civil War in the mid 1800s. Many derogatory comments are still made about the rebels and too often all Southerners are swabbed with the same brush that would lead others to believe we’re all racists and stupid. So I was wondering if sometimes you feel that all Germans are swabbed with having been Nazis. Oh, and just so you know, SO has a very strong German heritage. Momma and Papa are both of German descent and his grandparents spoke with a German accent.

Thanks for any input, and if this has already been adequately covered elsewhere, please let me know. I’m really interested in understanding your viewpoint.

Please feel free to send me an email if you would rather not comment. See “CONTACT ME” on the left sidebar.

27 Comments

  1. OK, I am not a German fan, but I am a fellow Southerner, and I know all about being seen as stupid, racist and inbred. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
    So I try not to slap labels on others.

    I have wondered the same thing you have queried here in your post and will be interested to read any responses.
    On a side note, my SIL was adopted as a small child by an American military couple, but is actually full-blooded German and reunited with her family a few years ago.She has visited Germany several times and is also learning German.
    It has definitely changed her perspective on things, an American raised with the same sort of anti-Nazi rhetoric we’ve all been exposed to, discovering family and establishing close ties in Germany.

  2. Interesting question. I’m a born American but I have a few thoughts anyway. I have spoken to many Germans on this very topic. Many of them are still called Nazis, even my Jewish-German friends.

    As an aside, the current Roman Catholic Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth, which at the time was considered like the Boy Scouts according to many sources.

    A few years ago I read “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” which was a fascinating read. It is rather objective and one of the things that I surmised is that Eichmann was just a guy in an office who was doing what he was told. Just read a bit of the entry at wikipedia to get the essence of the book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichmann_in_Jerusalem

  3. Angie,

    Yep, you know what I’m talkin’ about. :D

    SO’s grandparents received some harassment during World War II although they were passionately American. So I’ve heard about that perspective, They were also a bit estranged from some of their family during and after the war. It was a horrible thing reminiscent of the breach in families created by the Civil War.

    SO’s dad is almost full-blood German.

  4. bccme, I’ve always found it fascinating when someone would swab German Jews as Nazis. I suppose ignorance is everywhere. BTW, I’m part Jewish, so that also factored into my hesitance to make fun of the Nazis. When I say I’m Jewish, I am not a converted Jew, but my heritage is Jewish — on my mother’s side. Her people (and therefore mine) were Jewish, and it has been fascinating to study their experiences. But just to be clear, they are not from Germany but from Wales.

  5. I know some German nationals, those that are younger are very well educated about the Nazi period through their schooling (and are horrified that here in Australia our children are not educated about our mistreatment of Aboriginal people, like they were educated about their mistreatment of Jews and others). For them there seems to be a frustration that many people know little about Germany except for its torrid past. I think they’d like to see more diversity in representations of Germany/Germans in movies, TV etc., rather than the evil ruthless Nazi all the time. This would probably help prevent the ignorant types stigmatising and associating all Germans with Nazis.

  6. I’ll be interested to hear what the Germans say.

  7. Oh, Frenzy, what wide area you have opened here!
    The Nazi topic in Germany still has the power to get people fired, either if there is a suspicion that someone might have collaborated (though because of age that topic in the full sense of the word ‘dies’ out now.)
    Or if in the media someone mentions something, which might have been good and associates it to this period of time, he can be sure to cause a major scandal in Germany and can be removed from his position.
    So you see, it still is a very sensitive topic where most Germans still cannot laugh.
    Where I always wonder is, when people who lived in Germany during the war years speak about “Nazi Germany did this and did that”. Where were they and what did they do at that time, when they were a part of that Germany? After the war Nazi-Germany suddenly ceased to exist.
    With the pope and the ‘Hitlerjugend’ it is the same as with every society and even with todays economic societies. If you are not a member and are not in the right lobby-group or party, they don’t help you to get a job. In the ecenomic crisis of the pre-war years, that was a really forceful measure of pressure to get Germans to become members of the party, as a lot of the big companies supported the party. When you had a family or wanted to get a special education, you had to participate, otherwise you were out of work and could beg for your income. It was a bit easier in rural areas, where you could live more self sufficient, e.g. on a farm and the catholic church at least on a local basis in my home region did a great job to resist the political influencers.

    Nowadays, there is also a tendency, to call every troublemaker a Nazi. That has nothing to do with the ideology, but only with socially non-conform behaviour. The former Nazi’s in my opinion would not have tolerated todays Nazis in their ranks, because order, discipline and social order were high standards.

    From a historians perspective, I find the attitude towards the own history of Germany very sad. Lots of people who really could have told us about that time as eye-wittnesses, did not dare to speak about it and if only under the closest seal of secrecy. The chance now to listen is mostly gone. Only few are left now, who could tell how the times really were.

    By the way, just to evade any trouble, I have nor am related or have any connection to former or today’s Nazis and do not condone their ideology.

  8. CDoart,

    Thanks for sharing what you’ve seen and experienced. I have to say it never entered my mind to think of you as someone who approved of the Nazi ideology.
    My family roots are very deep here in the South, and it’s possible some of my ancestors owned slaves.. I know I had relatives who treated blacks as second-class citizens. But it’s not my view at all. No human being should ever own another. And I wouldn’t want people to ever assume I approved such a thing. We have to try to look beyond stereotypes.

  9. I’m German and I certainly don’t mind the Nazis presented as the bad guys because they were. As a modern German I don’t identify with them, however, I don’t identify strongly as German at all, how could I? I happen to have been born here, neither the great achievements nor the bad deeds of fellow Germans have anything to with me, it is not a reason to be proud or ashamed or offended by anti-German remarks.

    However, the Nazis and Hitler are a subject to be treated seriously. Dead seriously. Certainly not flippant. The word “Nazi” or “Hitler” are not to be used lightly and it irritates me when others do. You can’t compare anything to their crimes. Not because it is an insult to modern German, but because it is an insult to the victims. As someone above said, it is absolutely not acceptable for public figures as always leads to them getting fired/having to resign. (Remember Lars von Trier in Cannes?)

    And in this contexts I don’t feel at all conformable with Nazis turned into comic book movie villains, no matter who plays them. The backdrop of WWII and the fight against the Nazis is in my opinion too serious to serve light entertainment. I would be more happy with CA fighting some fantasy villains.

  10. Here, here, Jane. Walking through Dachau and Auschwitz can teach one an awful lot about man’s inhumanity to man.

  11. Hello Jane, nice to meet you here !
    Angie, thank you very much for your kind words!

    In Germany I think it is very common, that people do not identify with their nation. I even think it is a sign for Germans nowadays. I could not imagine any other nation so distant and detached from its own ‘identity’ or even struggling to confess they (we) might have something like a German identity.

    When I want to create a scandal in Germany, I know exactly which buttons I have to press. Unfortunately a scandal does not help my business, but some of the recent scandals I very much suspect have been caused on purpose to create publicity. Some scandals also only occure, when it is convenient for someone else to get rid of a certain person. What a convenient way to reach that goal. It is no longer a moral foundation there in the media to defend certain ideals, but only how profit and advantave could be gained. Very poor thinking, though they try to hide it under high moral standards!
    Angie, thank you very much for sharing your experience and family background!
    My grandfather was a very soft and caring man who could tell jokes and make fun to entertain everybody around him.
    He was such an unlikely choice for a soldier, but he could not prevent it – though he and his family had tried. He was sent to Russia and later to Denmark, where he made some good friends among the locals. He even corresponded with them after the war, though the upheaval and re-settlement broke the contact. He regretted that all his later years.
    I have been to both Dachau and Mauthausen (in Austria). Mauthausen gripped me more, because it would likely have been the place where my grandparents would have been deported to, if they had resisted more openly.
    I once asked my grandfather – and I must admit I was still very little at that time and only did understand his answer much later – why he became soldier, when he had no longer been able to resist and did not go into resistance.
    My grandfather answered very wisely: It was war and he had a family to defend. If e.g. an Englishman (perhaps he took that example, because he later was in English imprisonment at the end of the war) came, he would not ask him if he was for or against the government. He would shoot him because he was German, no questions asked. A thrown bomb would not make any difference between supporters and opposition. They would kill anyone alike.
    In hindsight I see the wiseness of this answer. War makes frontiers, where individuals placed in the middle have no choice any longer which position they would like to take.
    I am crying now, as I remember my grandfather telling me that, while he himself had tears in his eyes. He in general did not like talking about his war experiences. What he really had enjoyed was, that he had been able for some time to get into the cook squad and had learned how to cook most delicious meals for the officers. And I can tell you, if my grandfather went into the kitchen something really delicious would be the result.

  12. I also got tears when I read that, Christine. I’ve never doubted it was a time of chaos and terror when people felt forced to do things they would otherwise have never done, but I thank you so much for sharing that.

    I have an Austrian friend (80 yrs this year but still as lucid as if she were 20) who remembers she and her family leaving her homeland for America because of what was going on. She also remembers being separated from the extended family who was not able to leave and remembers when they were able to resume regular communications after the war how they recounted their feelings of terror.

    I’m not going to dredge up particulars with the Jewish people, but I do want to say that for a long time I have been fascinated with how things built over time. Then several years ago I toured the Holocaust museum in NY, and it’s been designed to show the progression and how the Jews were in denial until it was too late. As I got to the end of that exhibit, it was patently obvious that everyone in Germany was caught in something and how it could happen to any people. Any people. That’s one of the most important things I took away from the exhibit, and a point I made clear to my children. What is heartbreaking is how it has eroded the identity of the German people, and how ironic given the roots of modern nationalism.

    If my husband were not of very strong German descent, I might not be as sensitive to these identity issues. No, that’s not true. I would still be sensitive to identity issues but unaware of the effect on Germans in America. My father-in-law was an adolescent when the war broke out. and in his teens when it was done, and he remembers how he and his family were looked at suspiciously by their own countrymen because they were so strongly German. He could not embrace his heritage in any way when he was growing up, and this made him ashamed, and has made him take extra pains all of his life to be patriotic to America. He does indeed feel patriotic towards America, but the ever present need to display it is driven by his experiences as a kid, and I realize this is nothing compared to the effect of the war on the German people. He has spent the last half of his life doing copious amounts of research on his family and embracing his heritage very much to make up for what he felt he lost.

  13. Thank you also, Jane. Although I’ve known some about the general view of Germans, it’s another matter to hear directly from you. Obviously, the power and need to dissociate is very much at work, so I appreciate you being willing to share.

    Thankfully, RA’s part in this movie is going to be minimal and then we can move onto ‘The Hobbit.’

  14. The remarks of Jane and CDoart are valuable. They give rise to thoughts of those of us who have no German ancestry. I have wondered how a younger generation of Germans put into context the inter-war, and the war. Growing up first gen post-war with Canadian and Anglo parentage (who served in our countries’ navies throughout the war), it was clear that my generation of those of German ancestry/nationality, had trouble with perspectives on their history. And with what it meant to them, as post-war Germans. I also heard so much, in both England and Canada of “that could never have happened here”/”we’re better…” Of course it could have happened “here” etc. in similar circumstances. Which is not to sweep it under the carpet, or in any way to condone, excuse. It all happened, it’s happened before in history, it’s happening today.

    As for CA, and Heinz Kreuger, I’m really schizo. On the one hand, it’s comic book/superhero entertainment. :( On the other hand, popular culture can really reinforce stereotypes. We always have to embrace our demons – of other cultures. We have new demons today, and no doubt, to some extent, they serve to make us feel smug and superior.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up, because I’m more interested in the experiences of CDoart, and Jane. Which are the more pertinent to Frenz’ post.

  15. I’m interested in your thoughts too, Fitz, and I think it’s important for the German fans to hear how we think of all of this and them and especially when old stereotypes are being presented so prominently again.

  16. I don’t have a problem with RA playing a Nazi, may it be a thoroughly bad one or a more human character with shades of light and dark, I have a problem with the subject being treated lightly and used for a fantasy-action-adventure. I’m not sure how other Germans feel about it and how CA will be received here. Surely some are just annoyed that the Germans are again the bad guys and feel it is time to move one, but others may feel this kind of treatment of history is inappropriate.

    I also have to say, because of my country’s history I have a very ambivalent relationship with the army in general. One can find oneself on the wrong side very easily if one chooses the army as a profession and puts on a uniform and acts upon orders. Actually I abhor the sight of uniforms, for me it is a symbol of giving up one’s own conscience. As a German I associate other things with it than serving one’s country honourably and heroically. Brits and Americans certainly feel very differently about relatives that have served in WWII than I do about two grandfathers that were killed. I don’t know if they were Nazis and committed any crimes and prefer not to know to be honest. From what I have been told they were ordinary people that had no choice and would have preferred to stay with their families. I’m certainly not proud of it. I also have an elderly uncle who was forced into the army as a teenager, as all boys were at one point of time, and spend many years in Russian captivity. He is still traumatised and trying to cope with what he has been trough sixty years later yet he was on the wrong side and fought for the Nazis, not against them.

  17. We should never be complacent and think “it couldn’t happen here.” HItler was a monster, yes, but one who held an almost hypnotic sway over a nation and fooled a lot of people. And those types of charismatic individuals can appear anywhere.

    My husband and I have talked about this before–how so many of the German people were not, in fact, Nazis, but regular people not so different from us, who, in many cases, had no choice about serving in the military. I know very, very young boys were forced into service later in the war and even women were put in harm’s way.
    My father was a military policeman for a German POW camp in Tennessee and he had only good things to say about the prisoners. Some of them even came back to the area after the war and married and settled down.

  18. @Jane.
    I am completely with you with having very mixed feelings about military, army and uniforms. I doubt all kinds of uniformity, making people appear to stand for something which as individual they might not do. In the same way I very much doubt mass events and mass hysteria about anything and therefore cannot enjoy big gatherings either in demonstrations, political events or at concerts.
    With RA playing a Nazi I am very hesitant. On one hand I think there were enough real one’s that it is not necessary to add fake ones. On the other hand I am sure RA will do a fine job to portray a deserving villain.
    I am quite interested as well, how the CA film will be received in Germany. So far I did not come across a German preview only a newsletter with the English preview. The comic books are not very well known here as far as I know.

    I am sorry you lost both grandfathers in the war, Jane, and am also sorry because of your doubts. I am glad mine did survive and had been able to tell their story, though one died before I could really learn to know him. My grandfather, which I mentioned before, was very grateful, that he was in British captivity at the end of the war.
    He made me promise, that I will once visit Moscow and will travel out to the small city some 50 km away, where he was as a soldier. He was very determined and urged me to promise him that. I still have to make good on that promise, but I very much want to keep that promise I made when I was about 10 years old.
    I can remember, that I asked him if it was very dangerous to be captured. My grandfather just smiled slightly. That must have been the easy part of the war for him. He told it was obvious for all but some of the government that the war was lost. There was no attempt to fight captivity where he was, as the situation was obviously lost and they collectively handed over their guns.
    Also he told captivity in the British war camp was not bad if one did not try to oppose the officers, which my grandfather had no intention of doing. He told, the British soldiers in the camp liked to be soldiers as much as he did and were quite friendly and respectful to him.
    His worries during that time of captivity were, how he might be able to find his wife and sons again, as they had to leave home. They lived in a part of Austria, which now is CZ and had to leave with 20 kg each, which were stolen on their way to Bavaria. So they started anew with nothing at all and that still has my greatest respect how they coped with the difficult years after the war.
    My father also told me, that they were quite surprised to suddenly be called Germans, when before they had been Austrians. That must have been quite an identity change as well for them, as for them it was not a going home into their home country, but leaving their home to go into an unknown country, where even the language was quite different and the unruly Bavarians lived ;o) (Just making a bit of fun of my other half of the heritage.)

    Frenzy, if I can help with the research of your father-in-law, please feel free to contact me. Most German archives get better online access now because of lots of requests from the U.S.A. and not for the few German researchers.

  19. Thank you both so much for sharing. I’m learning a lot and feel for you both and your families in dealing with this. I can’t speak for everyone in America,but everyone I’ve ever discussed this with has understood the Nazi regime was to blame and not the general German population.

  20. Thank you very much, Frenzy, for letting me talk so much about my and my families experiences.
    I am very grateful, that there are understanding and sensible people, who see beyond prejudices.
    My father told me, when he and my grandmother were in a camp to be transported to Bavaria, an American officer went through the camp and offered citicenship for all who wanted to leave the country and settle down in the U.S.A. He had the greatest respect for that offer to be made to the defeated Germans. My grandparents could not take that offer, as they had first to find each other again.

  21. I think most of our stories are similar. The stories I grew up with are stories of loss and personal tragedy and trying to get on with life after war. I think most people were too busy with surviving to worry much about politics and questions of guilt. My mother’s family is from what is now Poland and my father’s from a city that was destroyed by bombs. As I understand both managed to escape the worst in time (the Russians and the bombs) but lost everything and had to start again somewhere else, bringing up their kids alone.

  22. It is very difficult for many of us to imagine the migrations, starvation and fear of that time. Both during and just after the war.

    I read the novels of a long-time English expat writer in Vienna, when we lived there. Sarah Gainham. The novels, as well as the recollections of our Viennese friends, who were older and remembered those times, put a new perspective on the horrors of what they suffered. War. Dresden. Tri-partite Occupation…

  23. Christine and Jane, I’m really getting a lot out of your posts, and I’m sure some lurkers are as well. It can be an overwhelming topic, but obviously, I felt strongly enough about it to ask you, and I’m so glad I did.

    Fitz, I’ll have to check those out!

    bccmee, I meant to say that I need to check out Eichmann in Jerusalem as well. I’ve read excerpts from the book, and I think my parents had it when I was a child, but obviously, I never read it.

  24. I was fascinated to read what Christine and Jane wrote. I don’t think there is one “German” attitude toward this period. These are just some thoughts as a German-American (in the sixth generation) onlooker, a scholar who studies Germany, a convert to Judaism who worked in Jewish communities in Germany off and on for several years, and, of course, who has lived in Germany for quite awhile and has many German friends:

    I, too, read Eichmann in Jerusalem with great interest (it was my introduction to Arendt, and made me love her to pieces — I’ve since read everything she’s written), although when you read it you should be aware that while the argument about the “banality of evil” has been influential, several scholars have questioned very effectively whether Eichmann is a good demonstration of it. Arendt also took a lot of abuse for “blaming the victim” in that work. IMO that’s not what she’s doing when she points out that the Jews cooperated in their demise, but I won’t clog your comments with stuff that I usually cover in 2-3 days of lecture and discussion of that work. I’ll leave you with the teaser that this work needs to be understood as a demonstration of points made in context of her monumental Origins of Totalitarianism, and that what she has to say has a lot to do with the progress of how she thinks the state governed by popular sovereignty developed in the West as it entered modernity (an argument for which she has also been criticized on many sides).

    As a German-American in the sixth generation (all of my ancestors who are traceable immigrated from the German speaking communities east of Stettin), I grew up learning that Germany was good, moral, clean, industrious, polite, honest, etc. Nazism was bad of course but an anomalous blip (both my great uncles were present at the invasion of Normandy but that didn’t influence their German-American patriotism in the least). When I moved to Germany in 1995 I learned that I had a lot more German nationalism than did most of my German friends! My ex, who’s four years older than me, said that when they were kids they didn’t yell “Deutschland” for the German soccer team but “Bundesrepublik”. The issues were complex because the friends I made had grown up on different sides of the Iron Curtain, with Easterners having a different attitude toward patriotism than Westerners (the East had a particular sort of patriotism it preached that combined communism and internationalism), but both were skeptical / negative for different reasons. That said, many had a certain hesitance in being identified as Germans while outside of Germany — not just because of the NS period, but because of other negative stereotypes they perceived were associated with being German which I had never encountered before.

    Most people my age who had broached the topic with their grandparents had received some kind of answer regarding the difficulty of the times and the necessity of going along — but we should remember there were “only” 500,000 Jews in Germany in 1933 (approximately). Though of course the German population was heavily urbanized, even so, many people in rural areas would never have encountered a Jew, or only rarely, for example as a stock dealer, a profession widely populated by Jews, and wouldn’t have quickly noticed a mass disappearance of Jews. The vast majority of Jews killed in the Holocaust were not of German ancestry. Most of the really violent moments of the Holocaust, to which average Germans would certainly have objected, did not occur in Germany. Of my six or seven closest friends, only one had grandparents who knew Jews before the war. When you visit a German home, you may see pictures of dead relatives in Army uniforms, the “fallen,” as they were called, and these people have not been forgotten. Most people in Germany (still) differentiate between the Army and the various Nazi organizations, which led to a huge blowup in the 1990s when Hamburg researchers uncovered a great deal of data suggest that the Army (Wehrmacht) had been involved in war crimes on the eastern front, and that many atrocities had been committed by people who were not party members. This information is controversial; some of it involves photo doctoring, for example; and the conclusions of this research still have to be processed by the German public; my impression is that most Germans are still very skeptical of it, possibly with reason.

    The issues of how the NS period is remembered in Germany have been studied repeatedly by sociologists and historians with all kinds of varying results so that it is impossible to point to one German attitude toward the period today. One thing that one can say is that with perhaps the exception of the period immediately following the Shoah, Germany never evaded responsibility for informing its population about the events. The German school system is absolutely saturated with this topic. Kids are not allowed to get away from it. Some kids will even say if they are tired of doing whatever in school, they’ll draw a swastika on the chalkboard, a prank that is guaranteed to stop instruction while the teachers help the class process it. This preoccupation in schools occasionally leads to a situation, studied by memory researchers, in which German kids insist that their ancestors were not only not villains, but resistance heroes. This tendency seems likely to increase as the war recedes further into memory and then oblivion. The film industry is a very different thing in Germany than in the U.S., as many, perhaps most, films are still at least partially subsidized by state film bodies, but we should also note that German films that parody Nazism have also been made, the most well known being Dani Levy’s “Mein Führer.” (Levy is a Swiss Jew who also made a rather raucous film about a Jewish family in Berlin, Alles auf Zucker!, that some critics considered antisemitic). Parody, of course, might be different than entertainment.

    Finally, I just want to mention that the perceived need to constantly remember the Holocaust in Germany also puts a huge burden on the Jewish communities there, 3/4 of whose members are not of German ancestry, to participate in commemorations, etc. This has led to worries in some segments of synagogues that the memory of the Holocaust is not a sufficient pillar on which to rest Jewish identity, balanced by countercurrents in other segments of the community which insist on the significance of cultivating such memories as a means of guaranteeing the political survival of the Jews in Germany.

    I’m sure I’ve strained your patience and I apologize.

  25. Thank you, Servetus, for your knowledgeable analysis and wonderful overview. You certainly did not ‘straine my patience’. I loved to read your comment and ‘outer'(?) point of view on German behaviour! I especially found your comment about the East and West interesting, coming to about the same result in the end for different reasons. Thank you!

  26. Not straining my patience either. I was hoping you would talk about it.

  27. […] And then he played a “German.” Or not. You’ve commented elsewhere on your reaction to the comic-book depiction of Nazis in Captain America. Obviously, German views […]


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