On a trip to Berlin my son and I spent some of our time looking into the crannies that elude most visitors. In Europe I have researched how some countries memorialize (if at all) their resistance to fascist occupation during World War II. The French Resistance Museum is a disgrace! It’s poorly lit, in a remote and undistinguished location, and only fragmentally put together. I have my theories but won’t go into that.
Another one of the nooks and crannies that I discovered in Berlin was the “Center for German Resistance” located in the Mitte district of the old Ost Berlin. The other was also in Ost Berlin and was the shop in which a German citizen employed Jewish workers to repair military uniforms with the approval of Nazi authorities. By labeling these Jews as essential to the war effort, this German helped to save their lives, an unusual and dangerous step, much like Schindler’s List. I also ran across a book written by an American sociologist commissioned by the U.S. to study in detail exactly how the Nazi party took over control of a small German town prior to the war. The author chronicles step by well thought out step how the Nazis destroyed workers’ unions and educated the people to hate.
In Berlin we found quite the opposite to the inadequate French treatment of the “resistance” and therein lies an analogy to our current political situation in the U.S. There are two quite different aspects to the small resistance movement in Germany between 1939 and 1945. It should be remembered that in that period the Nazi government’s murderous suppression of dissent was absolute and horrifying.
The most astounding monument to German resistance is the official German Resistance Memorial Center located, in of all places, the Bundeswehr Ministry, the very center of the current government’s military. In this museum one can see copies of all of the original correspondence of Hitler, Himmler, General Beck, Claus von Stauffenberg, etc. relating to the attempt by some in the general staff to eliminate Hitler and cut a separate deal with the Allies (as depicted in the movie Valkyrie). What we found most fascinating though was that while we were there they brought a group of young army recruits into a small room with pictures of the officers (600 arrested, 100 executed) as well as the White Rose movement who were tortured, executed, with some of their bodies hung on meat hooks. We saw officers lecturing this group of soldiers on personal responsibility. The Germans have learned from their dark past!
The other very small museum was dedicated to an individual who took it upon himself to protect Jews. The museum is located in the building in which he maintained a small shop that repaired military equipment under contract to the Wehrmacht. He only employed Jews and through sheer chutzpah was able to get the military to authorize this by claiming that only Jews had the ability to do the intricate work required.
The rise of fascism in Germany, and the lack of resistance to the same, put me to mind of the current political situation in the U.S. The state of our country today increasingly points toward the continuation of a corporate authoritarian state that has echoes with the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Fear, as in the never-ending “war on terror,” and intimidation by police forces that are increasingly militarized are major enforcers of state and corporate privilege.
There are those in government who see this as the “control” factor as the civil population begins to rebel against the unjust aspects of corporate rule (inadequate and expensive health care, perpetual war, unemployment, destitution, etc.). Since the end of the Vietnam War, the growth of our large “all volunteer,” i.e. mercenary army is not a chance decision by our government. The so-called Patriot Act, the consolidation of internal policing in the Homeland Security Dept., and the recent Bush- and Obama-approved invasion of privacy by continuing and expanding the wiretapping and internet monitoring of all citizens mirror the German Nazi Party’s control over the German population prior to their launching of WW II.
Consider as well the privatization and expansion of our prisons and the analogous use of concentration camps by the Nazis to intimidate political dissenters and control the people.
It is long past time for public discussion about militarized police forces, mercenary armies, and all of the controls over patriotic dissent under the guise of “national security.” Our founders conceived of our military as civilian based, not mercenary, and that ‘due process’ and privacy were protected civil rights.
As Benjamin Franklin noted two centuries ago, those who would give up essential liberties to gain a measure of temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. It’s not government and corporate power that keeps us “safe”; rather, it’s we ourselves, acting as free citizens, who keep ourselves safe. The French and German resisters had to learn this lesson the hard way, and we remember them (however imperfectly) for their courage in doing so.
Americans need some of that same courage and spirit today.