By Kevin Stoda, Germany
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a former colleague who lives with his family northwest of Gdansk, Poland. He had let me know that Poles had been upset by a three-part DER SPIEGEL article from early May 2009. The first piece had been entitled, "THE DARK CONTINENT: HITLERS HOLOCAUST HELPERS". I had just finished reading the articles myself and was not quite certain what all the hoopla in Poland might be about. I explained to my friend that the piece's title was just a play on two famous non-fiction works of the past decade.
The first reference in the 3-part article's title was to Mark Mazower's (1999) work, DARK CONTINENT: 20th CENTURY EUROPE. The second reference was to Daniel Goldhagen's provocative HITLER'S WILLING EXECUTIONERS (1997). The former book focuses on the wars of primarily the first half of the 20th century which left up to 100 million dead and hundreds millions more displaced or temporarily homeless. This book by Mazower sets the stage historically for explaining why Europeans have worked so hard since mid-century to create what has become a relatively peaceful continent, especially through the development of trade and friendships via organizations, like the European Union and City-to-City exchange programs.
The latter reference, i.e. to Goldhagen's book entitled HITLER'S WILLING EXECUTIONERS, had come out around the time that the last major WWII memory debate was erupting across Germany and Austria in the late 1990s. (Germany has had a series of national memory dates starting in the 1960s, when the youth movement first charged their parents of collusion, perpetuating fascism, and other war crimes. The mid- to late 1990s was the period when exhibitions and public debate in Germany finally took on the false legends of the German military's supposed relative innocence under SA and later SS control in the 1930s and 1940s.
Much of this German Military history debate occurred from roughly 1995 through 2000 and was carried in German newspapers as protests against exhibitions on the subject took place across the Bundesrepublik. Goldhagen's HITLER'S WILLING EXECUTIONERS (1996) was thus a well-timed publication for this Wehrmacht discussion in Germany as the nation, its people, and its parliament were debating the role of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in supporting Hitler, the Nazis, the SS, and their policies throughout Europe during the 12 darkest years in German history.
A traveling exhibition of the German Wehrmacht had set off discussion starting in 1995, and soon ( in the ensuing years) neo-Nazi marches and even bombing attacks reverberated across Germany and Austria.
Since that half-decade of wide-ranging debate took place in Germany and in Hitler's homeland, Austria over ten years ago, many Germans have taken time to note (with a critical eye and a continuing sense of defensiveness) towards history that the German fore-fathers did not act alone in the nearly two dozen European states, where the Nazi leadership carried out the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. Many historians agree and note that Germany has actually handled discussions and acted on historical responsibilities while, in grave contrast, peoples and states of both Eastern and Western Europe, who had actually joined in the diabolic fray against Jews, gypsies, communists, homosexuals, mentally and physically-challenged victims, have not owned upt to their crimes during the years of occupation and war..
I had just read the three part article from Der Spiegel on this theme in German as I wrote to my friend that Poland had actually been less of a target by the Spiegel authors than what one might otherwise expect from an article talking about Nazis Willing Helpers. For example, I told him, at least twice in the three articles, the various Spiegel staff writers noted that over 125,000 Poles had helped Jews to survive the Holocaust-i.e. at very great risk to themselves.
The Ukrainian born, Ivan Demjanjuk, had sparked the recent Spiegel publication this past Spring. Demjanjuk had been deported with great press attention from the United States for trial in Germany less than two weeks earlier. Demjanjuk, Ukrainian-born, had "served as a guard in Flossenburg concentration camp until shortly before the end of World War II. He had been transferred there from the SS death camp in Sobibor in present-day Poland. He was Ukrainian, and he was a Travniki, one of the 5,000 men who helped Germany's Nazi regime commit the crime of the millennium - the murder of all the Jews in Europe, the 'Final Solution." Demjanjuk faces in German courts now the charges of helping kill 29,000 Jews at Sobibor alone.
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