July 2, 2012
July 2, 2012
Defusing ‘Mein Kampf’: With the notorious book’s copyright soon to expire, German authorities plan to annotate away its ideological poison
July 2, 2012
Adolf Hitler’s rambling magnum opus, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) is considered a blueprint of the radical nationalist, pungently anti-Semitic vision that he would put into practice when the Nazis captured power in Germany, in 1933. It reflects his thinking so accurately that one German historian describes the book as “direct access to Hitler’s brain.”
In fact, the book’s contents were considered potent and infectious enough that the postwar administration in Allied-occupied Germany banned its publication, a prohibition that German authorities maintained, and which is to remain in place until the end of 2015, when the copyright expires. What happens then is the object of intense discussion and soul-searching in Germany, where, 67 years after the war’s end, freedom of speech is still curtailed when it promotes Nazi ideology.
Hitler wrote most of Mein Kampf in 1924, during his incarceration for his role in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, when he and his followers tried to seize power in southern Germany. One of his motives for writing the book was to use the royalties to pay off his legal fees. It was originally thought that Hitler dictated it to his prison mate and early follower, Rudolf Hess. But recent research concludes that Hitler typed it himself in his cell on a portable typewriter, and then later dictated further parts to a publisher.
The tome is a 700-page, two-volume monstrosity, the first edition of which came out in 1925. Though the book contains autobiographical information and was used as a basis for the Nazi Party’s political programs, it is written in the agitprop style of a political pamphlet. During the Weimar Republic years, the book was a best seller and the subject of fervent debate.
Hitler conceived Mein Kampf as a call to a völkisch nationalist alternative not only to Marxism and social democracy, but also to parliamentary democracy, monarchy, and the church. He describes international Jewry as a force committed to a global conspiracy to dominate the world and reduce Germans to their underlings. Using the classic anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he asserts that rootless, cosmopolitan Jews were behind Bolshevism as well as American-style capitalism. Hitler’s tract calls for Germany’s rearmament, the annexation of Austria, the rejection of the Versailles peace treaty, and the necessity of a Rassenkrieg (racial war) to win Lebensraum (living space) for Germans in eastern Europe.
Because Munich was Hitler’s last legal address before he and his National Socialist German Workers Party came to power in Berlin, Bavaria owns its intellectual-property rights, a hot potato that officials here have juggled uneasily for decades. Despite the fact that 12 million copies of Mein Kampf are in print—making it one of the world’s all-time best sellers—German courts have repeatedly upheld the ban on publication, as well as the book’s flaunting in public and display in store windows. One may legally, however, own Mein Kampf, disseminate it, use it in university coursework, and even sell secondhand copies. Anybody can download it today free from the Internet.
The de facto Nazi bible was outlawed in the delicate postwar years, when Germany was a traumatized, post-fascist country, far removed from the imperative of coming to terms with its past.
“The prohibition was completely justified at the time,” says Hajo Funke, a political scientist emeritus at Berlin’s Free University. “Both the American and German authorities were rightly worried that it could attract a cult following. In addition to this, there were much tougher prohibitions aimed at a population that had just undergone 12 years of fierce Nazi propaganda and still had those thoughts in their heads. At the time, there were broad networks of active former Nazis, including ex-SS officers.”
Today there are still networks of right-wing extremists in Germany, as there are most everywhere in Europe. And in Germany, the state’s rigorous prosecution of Nazi propaganda is accepted by most citizens. Just last year, Germans were shocked at revelations that a terrorist group calling itself the National Socialist Underground had murdered 10 people, nine of them immigrants. Polls attest that anti-Semitism still has currency among about 20 percent of Germans. That figure is not higher than elsewhere in Europe, but Germany is, after all, Germany.
Most observers feel that Germans have long possessed the political sophistication to have Mein Kampf readily available in bookstores, and that the ban has outlived its purpose. “German society as a whole is now mature enough,” says Bernd Wagner, an expert on right-wing extremism who runs a program for neo-Nazis opting to leave the scene.
But the Bavarian authorities aren’t taking any chances. At the cost of $700,000, they have opted to publish annotated editions, including English and audio-book versions, to go on sale on January 1, 2016. The hope is that these will precede the publication of private publishers’ unannotated versions and will therefore steal their thunder.
The task of annotating Mein Kampf—including one for high-school students—is in the hands of a small team of historians at the prestigious Institute of Contemporary History, in Munich. The aim of the exercise, which will include critical introductions, is to “demystify” its messages.
“Mein Kampf is like a rusty old grenade. We want to remove its detonator,” explains Christian Hartmann, who leads the Munich team. “We intend to defuse the book. This way it will lose its symbolic value and become what it really is: a piece of historical evidence—nothing more.”…
The Long Goodbye: When the end of life comes later in life, the consequences are often unexpected — and often painful
July 2, 2012
EARLY MAY, 2010. Henry,*eighty-six, sits in his hot pink living room, dressed in his usual, immaculate checked shirt and tie. Piles of books cover almost every surface, and the art on the walls ranges from a fragile thirteenth-century Persian bowl to a nail “painting” by the late David Partridge. A charcoal portrait of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein broods over the dining table, across from a pine cupboard full of Greek and Roman bowls and other ancient ceramics.
The nineteenth-century workman’s cottage in Toronto’s Cabbagetown is full to bursting with the habits and enthusiasms of two long lives, but next to the couch a wheelchair stands empty. It belongs to Henry’s wife, Anne,* who is also eighty-six. A distinguished biographer, she is paralyzed on the left side from a stroke she suffered nine years ago, and relies on Henry for everything from picking up her dropped reading glasses to help using the bathroom. Because he needs some respite, he has arranged for her to stay in a nearby long-term care centre for two weeks.
Today, after his first night alone, Henry feels ambivalent. “It certainly concentrates the mind, to do this separation thing,” he muses, thinking about all the interruptions he faces in his normal day. “On the other hand, I miss her terribly. It just feels wrong to be in this empty house without hearing ‘Henry! Henry!’”
A year ago, at eighty-five, Henry retired, reluctantly, as executive director of Abbeyfield Canada, an organization that maintains group homes for old people. Since his wife’s stroke, he has also been engaged in a Sisyphean struggle to continue living in their house. Henry fought the good fight on two separate battlefields, working to provide homelike environments for people who can no longer live independently while labouring to keep Anne in the place she loves more than almost anything. He continues to serve as a volunteer for the local Abbeyfield chapter, and today he’s thinking aloud about a scheme that would combine elder care centres with daycares for children. “I wonder,” he says in his plummy English accent, “who could do something about that…”
Twenty minutes’ walk from their house, Anne lies in her bed in the Rekai Centre, wearing a flowered silk nightgown with a deep V-neck and a matching bed jacket. She’s spending her two weeks here reading, watching television, and receiving visitors, with a sharp ear out for spicy gossip and an eye for stylish clothes. Of a recent guest’s attire, she says, “I really lusted after that little white leather jacket she wore yesterday.” The same woman brought her a welcome gift, a sub-rosa pickle jar filled with brandy.
One of the words that describes Anne is “indomitable.” When Henry left her in this bare-walled beige space — a sad contrast with the intensely coloured rooms of her house — she told him, with her characteristic drama, “I’ll never forgive you.” But within a day of her admission, he reported, “she really was marvellous, really was lovely today,” happy for him that he was taking advantage of her absence to embark on an epic bus trip to visit his family on Long Island.
Another word for Anne is “avid.” She knows exactly what she wants from life: “Interest. I still have enormous curiosity. I still want to meet new, interesting people and see interesting places and read interesting books.” Her most pressing desire these days is to visit the Prado museum in Madrid: it contains some of her favourite paintings, and she’s never been there. As she sees it, money is the main impediment to travelling as much as she wants. “Money’s so important,” she says. “I think back on my life and think, how could I have managed my finances better? It’s nice to have money when you’re young, but boy, you need it when you’re old.” She still receives royalties, she adds (the most recent from Serbia, for The Secret Ring, her book about Freud and his circle), and she claims the cheques could partially finance a trip to Madrid.
She’s so intent on what she wants that she assumes others have enlisted themselves in her current campaign. When I visit, she asks me, “Are you making any progress?” With what? I ask, wondering if she is referring to my work. “With getting Henry to see that we can do the trip to Madrid,” she answers, as if this is self-evident.
HENRY AND ANNE are two of the faces of old age, a stage of life that was once rare but is becoming more common. In 1900, a Canadian man could expect to live forty-seven years, and a woman fifty. By 2005, the average life expectancy for a man was seventy-eight, and that of a woman 82.7. Not only are senior citizens living longer; they make up an increasingly large segment of the population. By 2021, Canadians over sixty-five will outnumber children. In 2041, one in every four Canadians — 9.2 million — will be a senior citizen. A growing number will live to be what gerontologists call the old-old (they class people aged sixty-five to seventy-four as young-old, those aged seventy-five to eighty-four as medium-old, and those eighty-five and up as old-old).
This burgeoning population is something new under the sun. The relatively few doctors interested in them are still learning how to care for their aged bodies. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are still trying to understand their emotional and social needs. And, no doubt because old age is unwelcome and even threatening in our youth-obsessed, quick-fix culture, the not-yet-old are still averting their eyes, denying it will ever happen to them. Old age is a largely unexplored and unmapped country, obscured by prejudice and myth.
But not to those who are making their way through it. Perhaps partly because Henry devoted the past quarter century of his working life to senior citizens’ housing, and partly because he remains an old-school Brit, his attitude to age is brisk and un-euphemistic. As with most people who are successfully negotiating this last stage, old age snuck up on him when he was busy doing other things, and he realized quickly that the graceful thing to do was accept it. “I’m not a different person because I’m old,” he says. Ten or fifteen years ago, if someone offered him a seat on the streetcar, “I would have bridled, because it made me realize I looked older than I thought I was, but now I say thank you.”
Anne, too, has been in many ways unfazed by the simple fact of aging. Beginning with her two strong-willed grandmothers, she has always been drawn to old people. During the years she lived in England, she had several older women friends who impressed her as models for a thriving old age. Like her, they were blessed with an unflagging interest in life; unlike her, they had the use of their arms and legs into their nineties. After refusing for several years to accept that her paralysis was permanent, she seems to have made peace with that on some level. And although she complains that old age is tough — “I mourn for my lost energy, because I had gorgeous energy” — she can’t stop herself from noting good subjects for future biographies. Reading about the American writer Elizabeth Hardwick recently, she thought, “Oh my goodness, that would be an interesting person to write about. Then I said to myself, don’t even think about it. You’re too old to start a book.”…
A very young Judeo-Christian tradition: Our country’s religious identity is a surprisingly new — and it hasn’t always meant what it does now
July 2, 2012
With the Fourth of July approaching, people across the nation are preparing to celebrate what it means to be American. Even in times of unity, this means different things to different people. Add religion, and things get trickier still. These days, one of the most politically loaded ways to describe America’s national identity is as “Judeo-Christian.”
Today, the term tends to be used by Republicans as a way to rally their supporters around a presumed set of traditional values. During the GOP primaries, Rick Santorum invoked the term in an attack on Barack Obama’s health care plan (“a president who is systematically trying to crush the traditional Judeo-Christian values of America”); more benignly, Mitt Romney credited America’s world stature to “our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life.”
Implicit in all these references is a deep sense of history, in particular a belief that the United States is, and has always been, a nation rooted in the faiths of the Old and New Testaments. Those who hold this view assume that the Founders grounded American democracy in Judeo-Christian values and ethics. Those who differ argue that the Founders took pains to separate church from state, and that the idea that the United States is historically Judeo-Christian is a conservative myth.
Yet both sides are mistaken. The Judeo-Christian “tradition” is not as old as people think. If it had a precise date of origin, we would likely be marking its 75th anniversary this year. And perhaps more surprisingly, considering how the term is used now, the notion of a “Judeo-Christian tradition” was born during the presidency of a liberal Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Like Romney, FDR believed America’s role as a global power was underpinned by a Judeo-Christian worldview. But the birth of the term says much more about the particular travails and horrors of the mid-20th century than any deeper historical values. By wrapping Jews and Christians together in one tradition, Roosevelt meant to suggest a commonality that much of the world was rejecting.
The short and surprising history of the “Judeo-Christian” view of America also reveals something important about the broader relationship between religion and American foreign policy: It is a more intimate relationship, and a more bipartisan one, than either side might like to think.
Americans have always been a religious people. But George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson wouldn’t have recognized the term “Judeo-Christian,” or the notion that American identity is built on those interwoven traditions.
In fact, nobody did until the 1930s and ’40s, and the reason they did had more to do with the imperatives of foreign policy than with domestic culture wars.
In Europe, the Nazis were attacking Protestant and Catholic churches as well as the Jewish people; they seemed to pose a threat to all religions everywhere. At the same time, other totalitarian political systems were challenging the role of traditional religion in Italy, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.
In order to differentiate the United States from the rising undemocratic regimes in Europe—and in order to forestall the rise of brown shirts and other fascist and pro-Nazi groups within the United States—Franklin Roosevelt pointed out that Americans had a long history of respecting religious liberty and tolerating religious difference. In a series of pronouncements on American civil religion, Roosevelt introduced the underlying idea that American values could claim descent from both of these biblical faiths. Though he didn’t use the phrase “Judeo-Christian” itself, he argued that it was this unique heritage, one that fused religion and democracy, that placed the country on the side of pluralism, tolerance, and peace. The “chief religious issue is not between our various beliefs,” Roosevelt told the newly formed National Conference of Christians and Jews, in 1936. “It is between belief and unbelief. It is not your specific faith or mine that is being called into question—but all faith.”…