I recently had the opportunity to record a conversation with a visiting German about the rise of fascism, what for him was history, but history seen at much closer range than it was for me. The text has been slightly edited for clarity.
CKC: My mother's ancestors came from Berlin in the 19th century to Milwaukee"
Visitor: which might have been called the furthest west of German cities?
CKC: Well, at least it made fairly good beer. But jesting aside, I want to ask you about the rise of fascism in your country".
Visitor: in my country and in my family. My father was a member of the party.
CKC: Did you grow up with sympathy for that?
Visitor: Love for him, yes, but a dawning sense that he'd been made a fool of, and that evil had been done in his name.
CKC: But from what you've told me, he was an intelligent man.
Visitor: Intelligent, yes, but the social conditions that he had to live under were daunting. I make no excuses for fascism, especially for what it did to its many victims, at home and abroad. But I grew up wanting to understand it, inexcusable as it was.
CKC: Some observers are likening the current rise of authoritarianism in my country with the rise of fascism in yours.
Visitor: I'm glad it's you who bring this up.
CKC: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." This is a line often and mistakenly attributed to our writer Mark Twain.
Visitor: Conditions in Germany under Weimar were worse than in your country now. Again, harsh conditions do not excuse what happened in my country, but I worry that whatever is developing in the U.S. is a reaction to conditions much less harsh than my father and his friends faced.
CKC: Well, it's true that our President brags about a booming economy while I've seen pictures of Germans in the early 1920s carrying paper money in a wheelbarrow to buy a loaf of bread.
Visitor: Yes, we had hyper-inflation. And we owed reparations to the victors of the war.
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