William E. Grim is an American living in Germany and he recently attended a screening in Munich of Roman Polanski's new film, The Pianist. This film is based on the true story of the Polish Jewish piano virtuoso Wladyslaw Szpilman, who survived the entire Nazi occupation of Warsaw hiding in the ghetto and at times being hidden right under the noses of the Nazis in safe houses maintained by the Polish Resistance. Grim says that no matter what they say, the Germans haven't changed.

I have to admit that it is a strange experience to watch a Holocaust film in Germany. It's even stranger when you're the only American in the midst of about 200 Germans. But perhaps the strangest thing of all is to watch the reactions of the Germans as the events of the movie unfold. You hear a lot about how Germans are so ashamed today of the behavior of their countrymen during the Nazi period and about how much they've done to atone for their past sins. Don't buy that bill of goods.

If the audience of the screening I attended is any indication of German attitudes in general, it doesn't augur well for the future. Remember, this wasn't an audience composed of skinheads from the neo-Nazi enclaves in Karlsruhe and the former DDR. This was a group of Germany's best and brightest: educated, middle-class, sophisticated denizens of a major cosmopolitan city.

One scene in particular is seared into my consciousness. It happens about halfway into the film. The Jews of Warsaw have been herded into the ghetto. A street used by the Germans bisects the ghetto. While a group of Jews is waiting to cross to the other side of the street, several Nazi thugs force some elderly Jews to dance at an increasingly faster tempo. Weakened by malnutrition, hobbling on crutches, riddled with heart and lung infirmities, many of the Jews fall to the ground in sheer agony. It's a sickening scene. It's the kind of scene that makes you ashamed that your last name is Grim. Hell, it's the kind of scene that makes you ashamed that you listen to Beethoven. If an American soldier had done the same to a German or Japanese POW he would have been thrown into the brig for life or cashiered out of the service on a Section 8. But there they were, today's educated, freedom-loving, let's-all-hold-hands-and-love-one-another Germans, laughing at torture.

If there is a more sickening spectacle than Germans finding humor in what their fathers and grandfathers did to the Jews, if there is a more perfect example of the utter lack if humanity at the core of the German nation, I am unaware of it.

There is something terribly wrong with Germany and the German Volk. The German soul is a deep abyss, a fetid, stinking morass that befouls the community of nations. But wait, there's more.

Another scene from the movie that stands out is when an SS guard announces to a half-starving Jewish work detail that they will be receiving an additional portion of bread with their rations, one that they can sell to other Jews, because "everybody knows how clever the Jews are at selling things." This time the audience fairly rolled with laughter.

I was tempted to call in an air strike on the theater, or at the very least to slap a couple of hundred Germans, but I managed to hold my fire knowing that ultimately any World War II movie ends badly for the Germans. Normally I don't talk back to the screen at the movies, but I do have to admit that I did yell out "USA" and pumped my fist in the air when the Szpilman family listened to the announcement on the radio that the United States had declared war on Germany. And I also do have to admit that it felt mighty fine to yell out "Shoot those damn Nazis!" when the film showed the Jews starting to fight back during the Warsaw Uprising. <
It's funny how quiet the theater became when near the film's end a group of SS goons were shown in a holding camp awaiting transportation to a deserved harsh fate in the Russian gulag. And then it became clear as a bell. German shame for World War II does not result from a moral awareness of the innumerable crimes and atrocities committed by the Germans. No, the Germans are ashamed because they got their rear ends handed back to them by a bunch of Yanks, Russkies and Brits who they considered - and still consider - to be members of inferior races.

Grim wrote another piece worth reading a while back called Hitler's Children.
(found at la prensa amarilla, where I'm sure I'd find lots of great stuff, if only I could read Spanish)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This person seems to detest Germany so much that I wonder how he copes with daily life in this Nazi-Land and why he does not move to a country that never knew racism, never had signs on Metropolitan restaurants "off limits for Jews and Blacks", particularly not after the Third Reich, never did cruel experiments with black pregnant women, or studied the natural course of diseases in African Americans to better understand Medicine and refused to give these patients antisyphyllis medication even in the early nineteen-seventies. He should live in a country that never killed millions of native "redskins", never discriminated against Asians, never threw nuclear bombs on children and women just to see how they work although their own Chief of Staff considered this a crime, and handed in his resignation, although the other country held secrete peace negotations. He should live in a country that made Uncle Tom its first President, Malcolm X Secretary of State and assured that Martin Luther King died in a luxury spa.

Sorry for being cynical but this conglomerate of unbalanced nonsense deserves no objective comment.
I love America but I hate stupidity and absurd simplification.