When most people in their nineties or older die, survivors reflect on the changes the departed saw over the span of their lives. With Mandela, we reflect on the changes he helped make. He made us better.
When most people in their nineties or older die, survivors reflect on the changes the departed saw over the span of their lives. With Mandela, we reflect on the changes he helped make. He made us better.
Here you’ll find a list of gifts perfect for someone who’s already bought, read, stolen, or otherwise wrangled a copy of Summer of Long Knives. (Of course, if you haven’t read Summer, I recommend you find a way to remedy that. But that’s another story.)
Thanks to the History Channel, we’ve been bombarded with documentaries, of variable quality, about the Third Reich, but this five part series done for BBC bestrides them like a colossus. I’ve already shown clips from it for other posts, but the whole thing must be seen in full. Though this can be done on Youtube, I highly recommend buying the DVD series, if for no other reason than to encourage the production of high quality work.
2. Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw
How did Adolf Hitler rise from a dreamy, ineffectual drifter who ranted to an audience of none to a dreamy, totalitarian dictator who ranted to millions? Ian Kershaw tells how, debunking myths and exposing the contingent nature of history along the way. To understand Hitler and his time, start here.
3. The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans
The Nazi state, Hess’s rhetoric to the contrary, did not begin and end with Adolf Hitler alone. The images of lockstep order in films like The Triumph of the Will were a screen that covered a complex mass of conflicting institutions, bureaucracies, and interests. Evans explains how religion, art, business, and educational institutions were molded, with varying degrees of success, by the Hitler regime. A crucial book for understanding how the Nazi state actually operated.
4. Vacation: The Hotel Zum Tuerken
If you’ve got the money for air fare, and a friend who wants to touch history instead of simply watching and reading about it, send them here. The Hotel Zum Tuerken is a charming Bavarian hotel situated on the Obersalzberg, next door to a small hill on which Hitler’s Berghof once stood. The Hotel Zum Tuerken is much cheaper than the nearby Hotel Intercontinental, which stands roughly where Goering’s house once did, and offers underground tours of those parts of the bunker system that still remain accessible to the public.
Happy holidays, all.
The Nazis came to power at a time of great economic peril in Germany. Unemployment was close to 30%, wages and living standards were in free fall, banks were failing. Germany’s Center Party, led by Heinrich Bruening, had responded to the policy through austerity measures designed to balance the budget and increase investor confidence. These measures failed, costing the Center Party its political legitimacy, and playing into the Nazi narrative that claimed both communism and capitalism were devices of a Jewish conspiracy bent on enslaving Germany.
It should be mentioned here that Hitler’s Nazis didn’t have especially well-thought out economic policies. Socialism was the second word in the party’s name, but Hitler had long maintained that it was urgent for the Nazi state to protect private property rights and markets. (Hitler qualified this by saying that private interests should always come in second to the will of the national community, but as with so many other areas of Nazi thought, Hitler never bothered explaining what this meant in practice.) Hitler defined socialism this way:
Socialism! That is an unfortunate word altogether… What does socialism really mean? If people have something to eat and their pleasures, then they have their socialism.
An actual socialist would probably reply that such a definition could include life under a reasonably generous feudal warlord. Of course, starting in 1933, actual socialists were vanishing from political life in Germany, so it’s likely Hitler never had to hear their answer.
The Nazis did promise to reduce unemployment. Toward this end, Hitler’s economics minister, Hjalmar Schacht launched a series of public works initiatives, combined with large tax cuts for producers. Germany began investing huge sums of money in waterways, highways, and, most significantly, rearmament. Munitions expenditures in 1928 were 3% of Germany’s budget. By 1938, they were 46%. By the middle 1930s, Germany’s armed forces were getting more money than they could spend, and most of the productivity gains realized during this time went into accelerating Germany’s rearmament.
These policies did help reduce German unemployment, but Germany’s “employment miracle” was also the result, in part, of policies which artificially reduced the size of the German labor force. Women were pushed out of both public and private sector jobs. Meanwhile, those men who refused to take jobs because the jobs paid too poorly or because they considered them too menial for people of their qualifications risked being labeled as “work shy”, which meant a stay in a concentration camp. Also, by introducing conscription in 1933, the Nazis felt justified in removing hundreds of thousands of young men from the unemployment statistics.
The consumer sector in Germany’s economy recovered to its pre-depression levels, but not much higher. This was because German wages and prices were not allowed to rise, German factories were devoted to rearmament instead of domestic production, and the German government restricted the flow of imports beyond those needed for heavy industry. The Nazis abolished Germany’s trade unions, forcing German workers to join the German Labor Front, which never functioned as an effective means for workers to bargain for increased wages and benefits. The share of Germany’s income devoted to wages decreased from 64% in 1932 to 59% in 1936. Thus, demand for consumer goods in Germany remained weak, while supply remained flat.
These policies led to some fascinating distortions in the German economy. The car industry is an example. The depression nearly decimated Germany’s automotive sector. Four of the remaining twelve automakers in Germany combined to form Auto Union, which functioned primarily as a maker of luxury and racing cars during the early 1930s.
US automakers also had divisions in Germany. Ford started manufacturing passenger cars in Germany in 1925, shortly after a relaxation in import tariffs, while GM bought the German carmaker Opel. These two manufacturers competed for middle and upper middle class car consumers in the 1930s, with Opel making a car that, with a sales price about 2000 marks, was almost cheap enough for even the working classes to buy.
But Hitler wanted a cheaper car. With that end in view he directed the KDF office (Hitler’s “Strength through Joy” office, which provided cheap vacations and other amusements for Germany’s workers) to design and produce a car whose purchase price would fall under 1000 marks. This car would be called the KDF-Wagen, and working people would be able to pre purchase it by directing 5 marks per week into an account. When the account reached 900 marks or so, the car would be delivered to them.
The KDF wagon took several years to design and test, and large factories were built to accommodate demand, but before production could start, Hitler invaded Poland and the assembly lines were turned over to military production. The KDF wagon’s chassis was modified for military use. The worker deposits were either pocketed by Robert Ley, who ran the KDF, or diverted into military spending. No cars were ever delivered.
This episode reflects the basic flaw of Hitler’s economic thinking. Hitler was, by all accounts, enthusiastic about the idea of increasing German car ownership rates, and was anxious to build the market; but his commitment to rearmament and his unwillingness to devote resources to raising German incomes made this dream impossible.
But, Hitler’s enthusiasms ran to other things than cars, and this gets to the center of Hitler’s vision of economic development. Unlike conventional economists of the era, who saw the depression in terms of currency flight and investor skittishness, or the Keynesians, who saw it as matter of a shortfall of aggregate demand leading to a reduced “velocity of money”, the Nazis felt that Germany’s problems came down to her inability to control her own resources and her dependance on foreign trade, effects exacerbated by Germany’s surrender and the conditions of the Versailles treaty. To solve this problem, Hitler believed Germany needed to conquer and subjugate foreign territory and labor power. In the future, Hitler believed Germany would control enough territory and slave labor power to meet the economic needs of its people.
Of course, accomplishing this required a large conventional army with sufficiently advanced weaponry. Hence the need to throw all of Germany’s resources into rearmament. War was Hitler’s economic growth scheme.
Note: the statistics in this post come from an article written by L. Larry Liu, an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. His article is worth a read. Those looking for a fuller picture of the German economy during this time should consult The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans.
The Amityville franchise is a rancid body of work. From the first feature in 1979 to the Michael Bay produced remake in 2005, the series has served up all the ooze, breasts, dog abuse-Fu and questionable real estate purchases that…well…there must have been someone who wanted them.
The second film, supposedly a prequel to 1979′s Amityville Horror, aims to show us how the famous three story Dutch colonial on Long Island made an innocent young teenager murder his family. We discover quickly that the kid didn’t need a lot of inspiring. The through line of the story goes like this: loud, abusive jerk moves his dysfunctional family into a big house on Long Island, demon possesses skeevy oldest boy, oldest boy boinks his sister en route to killing his family with a rifle, then kindly priest spends next hour performing exorcism on boy, finally defeating the demon by forcing it to possess him instead.
Here are the major story issues with Amityville 2:
1. The last hour steals all of its plot beats from The Exorcist. The effect of this is that when victim/viewers see…say…a word appear in the flesh of the possessed boy, they think That was in The Exorcist! You know, that was a great film: the head spinning around, Max von Sydow’s performance, the floating bed, Father Karras’s sacrifice, the fall down the steps… I’m sorry, Amityville 2. What were you talking about?
2. There are hazards to telling a story in which everyone is an irredeemable asshole. And oh, is everyone in Amityville 2 an asshole. The Dad’s moods run the gamut from crabby to violent. The Mom is pathetic and bland. The smaller kids are obnoxious. The older son is a creep. And though, during the infamous incest scene, the older son is possessed, the movie offers no explanation for why the older daughter is into it. Satires like Clockwork Orange can function on this basis, but horror movies usually require at least one sympathetic character. Viewers of Amityville 2 couldn’t be blamed if, after the first ten minutes, they start chanting, “Dee-MONS! Dee-MONS! Bonk bonk on the head!”
So what to do?
If we’re going to stick to the idea that the family moving into the house is a bunch of assholes, we could turn this into a comedy. In fact, Tim Burton already did.
Or we could make it a horror movie from the ghost’s point of view. Here we have a nice ghost, accustomed to friendly families whose foibles he can laugh at and whose troubles he can look upon bemusedly, like the Stage Manager in Our Town. Maybe, in keeping with the supernatural premise of the movie, he’s an actual Native American, buried beneath the house, whose long period attached to this land has given him an interesting perspective on the comings and goings of mortals. Maybe he even shares the house with a couple of other ghosts of those who’d died here in the recent or distant past.
Then a monstrous family moves in. The ghost tries to do what he can to get them to leave, but they won’t. They’re dreadful to each other, and he knows the older boy of the family is especially disturbed and thinking of murder. He tries to intervene, but his attempts are invariably misunderstood, driving the dysfunctional mortals ever closer to doom. The ghost is desperate, knowing he has to either prevent the killings or at least force the family out, because if he doesn’t, the kid’s murder plan will mean he has to spend eternity, trapped on this piece of land, with the angry spirits of these terrible people.
That’s how I’d save it? How would you, the readers at home, do it?
A negative review of the movie The Book Thief posed the question this way:
When I reviewed 12 Years A Slave, which is based on the true story of a free black man who was kidnapped and brought to the Deep South as a slave in 1841, I said that it might help America come to grips with the horrors of slavery and our nation’s racist roots if slavery was addressed more often in film — our most powerful storytelling medium — the same way World War II, the Holocaust, and Nazism have been portrayed in popular entertainment over the decades, leaving little doubt amongst generations of Germans and the rest of the world (regardless of one’s interest in history) that the Nazis’ goals, beliefs, and methods were an absolute wrong and a crime against humanity. That said, with seemingly every aspect of this tragedy examined exhaustively, is it possible that all the lessons of World War II have been learned and there are no new stories left to tell?
For reasons that anyone can deduce by looking slightly to their right on this page, I have a rooting interest in the answer to this question. Summer of Long Knives isn’t, strictly speaking, a story of the Holocaust, which began five years after its story ends. It is, however, a story about the Nazis and the state they were building, when their “goals, beliefs, and methods” were becoming all too clear. During its conception, I wondered why yet another story about the Nazis was needed, and, even if it were, why I should write it, when there were other projects I could have invested my time in.
I think of something Terry Gilliam said that Frederic Raphael said Stanley Kubrick said about Schindler’s List, a movie whose production led Kubrick to suspend his own film, which was to have been called The Aryan Papers. According to the story, Kubrick that the trouble with Schindler’s List was that it was a story about human success, when the Holocaust was the story of human failure.
I admire Spielberg’s work on Schindler’s List, and I don’t think he let us forget that Schindler’s success was limited to saving a small number of people from the slaughter of millions in Poland. (The sequence in which Amon Goeth and his men shoot everyone in the Krakow ghetto haunts me even now.) Still, Gilliam (and Kubrick) have a point. Film presentations of the Holocaust are usually about a success of one kind or another. Schindler saves his workers. The prisoners escape from Sobibor. Roberto Begnini dies, but he keeps his son alive until the camp is liberated. Inglorious Basterds changes the history of the war so that the Jews, represented by the Basterds and by the movie theater owner, can wreak bloody vengeance on Hitler and Goebbels personally. The best of these films remind us of how terrible the Nazis were, yes; but in the end, the protagonists triumph, the evil is dispatched, and justice, after arduous struggle, prevails.
I agree that this particular way of rendering World War II, and the Nazi period generally, feels more than a little shopworn. We certainly don’t need additional reminders that the Nazis were abominable people. But if stories of the Nazis have less impact than they once did, it may be because Hollywood, and American culture generally, approaches them from the same angle most of the time.*
That was why I wanted Summer of Long Knives to be, in the end, a story of failure. Kommissar Wundt had to lose. Even when he won, he had to do it in a way that cost him as much, or more, than he gained. Mine was to be the story of a someone trying to be a decent man in an indecent time and finding himself constantly thwarted, not just by external forces, but by his confidence that his intelligence, his reason, his bureaucratic legerdemain, and his dedication to justice are sufficient weapons against those forces. In the end, he can’t bring the killer in the story to justice because there is no justice to bring him to. His greatest success is that he and his wife get to escape Germany. (They seek refuge in France. Oops.)
The Nazi period doesn’t so much have lessons left to teach as warnings to issue. Civilizations fail. Institutions fail. Individual human beings fail. Crisis can bring the best out of a few people, but the worst out of many, many more. History’s function is to tell us how that happened in Germany from 1918-1945. Art’s function is to explore how that felt, to make it relevant to us now, to tell the inspiring stories, yes, but also to tell us how it must have been to rebel, knowing that the knock on the door was the inevitable end. Or how it must have felt to have been the person next door to that rebel–to have been the neighbor who betrayed him to the Gestapo for no better reason than spite. Or how would have been to watch your neighbors get shipped away, knowing what was going to happen to them while pretending you didn’t know what was going to happen to them? On how it must have been to know that your life depended on your success in fashioning some kind of cooperative relationship with an evil regime. How much of ourselves might we recognize in each of these situations, and what does that say about us?
I don’t think it’s time to stop telling stories about the Nazis and the Holocaust. But perhaps, having so long devoted our narratives to those few people whose individual heroism did make a difference, it’s time to turn our attention and our imagination to the millions of people who were less lucky, or less strong, and give a few more of them their hour upon the stage.
If Variety is to be believed, this will happen:
The sequel, titled “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story,” is being financed by Allen J. Schwalb of Star Partners who will also produce along with Bob Farnsworth of Hummingbird. The duo are aiming to get the movie into theaters for the 2015 holiday season.
Karolyn Grimes, who played George Bailey’s daughter “Zuzu” in the original, will return for the “Wonderful Life” sequel as an angel who shows Bailey’s unlikeable grandson (also named George Bailey) how much better off the world would have been had he never been born.
So, according to the sequel, cute little Zuzu grew up, died bitter and old, and became a geriatric Erinye, hounding the Earth’s jerks into submission.
I’m afraid that if the plot of their new movie is “Angel shows heartless prick why world would have been better off without him”, it’s already been done, in a way that’ll be hard to top, by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in “It’s a Soraway Life”:
The Tegernsee proves once again that, whatever else one might think of the Nazi leadership, they had taste in real estate. A picturesque lake south of Munich, framed by mountains and towns that bring to mind the middle ages, the Tegernsee seems like the sort of lake from whose waters a lady’s hand, proffering a sword, might arise.
It was on the shores of this lake that SS overlord Heinrich Himmler owned a residence.
Himmler bought the house in 1934, moving out of the prefabricated residence he’d shared with his wife Margarete and their daughter Gudrun. It had the serious disadvantage of being a very long drive from the Obersalzberg complex. Because proximity to Hitler meant proximity to power, Himmler was often away from the Tegernsee house, leaving his wife and child to themselves. Margarete, taking her duties as First Hostess of the SS seriously, often invited the wives of other high-ranking SS leaders to tea at the Tegernsee house.
By 1938, Himmler had started an affair with his secretary, Hedwig Potthast. He eventually bought a home for her in Berchtesgaden, which allowed Himmler to divide his time more efficiently between his Fuehrer and his mistress. Because Margarete refused to make a fuss about her separation from Himmler in the way Magda Goebbels had about her husband’s affair with the actress Lida Baarova, Hitler (despite his reputation as a prude in matters of his subordinates’ marital conduct) didn’t interfere. Margerete and Gudrun continued to dwell at Tegernsee until they fled the advancing allied soldiers in 1945.
Also at Tegernsee lake is an inn that was in the center of an early power struggle within the Nazi state. About three miles north of Gmund is Bad Wiessee, a small town whose name tells all. “Bad” means spa, and Wiessee translates as “meadow lake”. One of the hotels here, Kurheim Hanselbauer, was the place where SA Chief Ernst Roehm and his cronies were partying on June 30th, 1934. It was late on that night that Adolf Hitler arrived with a troop of SS men to arrest Roehm and take him to his death.
Hitler brought down his close comrade–Roehm was one of the few Nazis on a first name basis with the Fuehrer–for two reasons. Under Roehm’s leadership, the SA had grown to some four million men. Roehm’s success had made him bold and hungry for additional power. Specifically, he wanted the SA to supplant the Wehrmacht as Germany’s armed force, and he wanted to press the Nazi revolution deeper into economics, threatening the industrialists and traditional conservatives whose backing Hitler had courted to get into power. Roehm’s demands were becoming a complication Hitler didn’t feel he needed. But Hitler also got a push from Roehm’s deputies in the SS (then a subordinate organization within the SA), Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich and Himmler, who sensed an opportunity to advance by eliminating their boss, concocted evidence that Roehm was plotting a coup against Hitler. Hitler, after some convincing, believed them.
Hitler had Roehm and others with him taken to Stadelheim prison in Munich, where he offered Roehm the opportunity to commit suicide. When Roehm refused, Hitler gave the order to have Roehm shot. Afterwards, SS death squads hunted down other enemies of the regime. The SA was decapitated, at least 85 people were killed, and thousands were arrested. Hitler proclaimed himself supreme judge of the German people, and the Himmler’s bodyguard unit emerged as the new third leg in the strange tripod of Nazi government: the Party, the Ministries, and the SS.
Just another night on the Tegernsee in the 1930s.