Today´s blog post entry is going to deal with a film I was recently watching, which shows very well how easy it is to fall back into the times of terror and dictatorship. “Die Welle” (The wave, 2008) is a movie based on Ron Jone´s social experiment “the third wave” . A high school teacher creates an autocratic class system in his school class with him as the leader and has to realize within days that his students don´t only participate at the experiment but become fanatic about it. The argument that another Third Reich would not be possible today due to all the information channels and general knowledge about history lost its relevance because of this experiment.
Interestingly those students who had been socially left out in school and were generally considered “nerds” were the ones who were the easiest to convene and in fact the most active during the experiment. Once the teacher in the film, Mr. Wenger, realizes that the experiment has gone too far and stops it, Tim, the stereotypical “nerd”, prefers to shoot himself at the end of the film rather than living without the movement, fearing to be lonely again. The film underlines how easy it is to manipulate people by giving them a rigid social structure and a sense of a social belonging. Out of a sudden, the students are not split in their usual little groups and divided in “cool” and “uncool” anymore, but united within a single movement, following an autocratic teacher; a leader so to speak. All the characters in the movie can be related to real time personalities or at least to people the audience can relate to.
As already stated, there is Tim, the fanatic. Being socially excluded, he finds a place in the “wave” where he is valued and can function. Caro, on the other hand, is comparable to Sophie Scholl. She understands how dangerous the social experiment has become and opposes it, running risk to be threatened and pursued. Marco, however, might be the most interesting of all characters. He is Caro´s boyfriend and one of the “cooler “students in the class. Marco is quiet and a dreamer and doesn´t seem to have an interest in anything. Apart from Tim, he is the one who flourishes the most within the movement, which leads to a violent conflict with his girlfriend. Marco can be described as the typical Nazi follower- uncritical, a bit lost with a need of structure. He is the one that Hanna Arendt had in mind when she wrote about the Eichmann process in Jerusalem and famously described the Nazi murderer as “banal” (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963). What stuck me with this story is the ease and the effortless of fascism. Even after all this years it hasn´t lost its dangerous appeal to people. The film, therefore, is undeniably crucial to watch because it reminds us all how fragile our freedom is.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer made headlines earlier this week at a press conference by comparing Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad with Adolf Hitler. Spicer described Assad methods of using gas against his own citizens to be worse than Hitler´s and claimed that the latter had never used gas against his citizens, forgetting that the German dictator was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews through concentration camps and gas chambers in particular. Kushner later apologized for his statement saying that: “In no way, I was trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.” Although Spicer´s apology, many Jewish organizations, such as the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, found his statement outrageous and asked for the spokesman´s resignation. “Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” Steven Goldstein, the center’s executive director, said in a statement.
There is no doubt that Spicer´s statement was inappropriate to say the least, since we all know what devilish part gas played for the systematic killing of the Jews within the Third Reich. A dark part of history that can never be forgotten. At the same time, I found it interesting how little it takes to create outrage and misunderstanding when it comes to the Holocaust in general. Sean Spicer´s comments were wrong and ridiculous, mostly because a man in his positions should know better but it can hardly be argued that he was denying that Nazi Germany used gas chambers or, even worse, the Holocaust in general, as Jean- Marie Le- Pen did. If we leave Sean Spicer´s unfortunate example aside for a moment, I feel that the topic, in general, is considered to be that sensitive that people prefer to not talk about it at all, because they are afraid of saying something wrong. German sociologist Elisabeth Noelle- Neumann famously described this phenomenon as the “spiral of silence”. If there is a predominant opinion in society, everyone who thinks of differently about a certain topic slides down an imaginary spiral until the point he or she prefers to not express their opinion at all and keep quite. And if one doesn´t keep quite one has to face serious consequences. A good example here is late comedian Joan Rivers, who described German Top Model Heidi Klum on a red carpet with the following words “the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens…”. Rivers, Jewish herself, later stated: “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.” Whatever you think of the joke Joan Rivers made a few years ago, one thing is clear: it reminded people of the Holocaust. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t help anybody to keep quiet or to be afraid to talk about subjects, however sensitive and provocative they might be. The alternative would be that people don´t talk about them at all and forget like it happened with the Armenian genocide and that cannot be in anybody’s interest.
A recent Telegraph article about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stuck me. The article dialed with current accusations Erdogan made about the Dutch and the German government being comparable to the Third- Reich. The relationship between Turkey and the Netherlands has become difficult since the Turkish minister of foreign affairs was denied to participate at a pro- government rally in Rotterdam, while Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, the Turkish minister for family and social policies, was escorted out of the country only one day later. Erdogan was very emotional about this matter and stated at a convention in Istanbul the following: “I said I thought Nazism was over, but I was wrong. In fact Nazism is alive in the west.” Mr. Erdogan made a similar statement about Angela Merkel accusing her of “Nazi measures” in state television a few weeks before. source: thepressproject.ge
Calling out German authorities and politicians for being Nazis is nothing new. Even Prince Philipp (having German roots himself) used to make fun of German prime minister Helmut Kohl calling him “Reich´s Chancellor”. It is a fact that the German state due to its history has a special responsibility and certainly is an easy target for populism. At the same time, however, I don´t know any other place that has faced his history as eloquent as Germany has. If you have ever happened to visit Berlin, you will agree with me that the number of monuments, information points, commemorative plaques and simply places that deal with the nations complicated past is simply overwhelming. Although Nazi- Germany certainly has a very special place in history when it comes to crimes against humanity, we should not forget that many other countries do as well. Being part of an Austrian minority in the north of Italy, it always bothered me that there are still places in my area deriving from the fascist era under Benito Mussolini.
Italy in general has a very liberal relationship with its dictatorial past.
Many politicians openly think of Mussolini as a great political leader and his granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, has a seat in the Italian senate. Nothing similar would be possible in Germany- just imagine someone called Elisabeth Hitler in the German Budenstag. According to a survey of 2013 less than 22.000 people in Germany can be considered of being Nazis or close to Nazi organizations- in 2008 it still were over 30.000- not more than in other European countries. And what about Turkey and its past? The Ottoman empire after all is responsible for a genocide which caused over one million victims. A “Holocoust” about which Adolf Hitler famously said “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” referring to his own plans to exterminate the European Jews. Mr. Erdogan is not responsible for these horrible actions, the same as Angela Merkel has nothing to do with six million Jews being killed 70 years ago. As representatives of their countries, they have, however, a special burden, a symbolic responsibility so to speak, which the German chancellor faces with much more dignity and professionality. Before accusing people and making populist and misleading statements, President Erdogan should take an example of German authorities and start to face his countries own controversial past.
Living and studying in the United Kingdome has been a blessing for me, which I did not expect. When I started my Master course, people in Britain had recently voted to leave the European Union, which was a shock nobody expected. Only a few days before the actual polling day, another, even more dramatic incident, took place. Labor MP Jo Cox was killed only a few days before the EU referendum by a former psychiatric patient and white supremacist. Cox, who campaigned to remain in the European Union, was a human rights activist and liberal and was in favor of immigration. A fact that many neo- Nazi groups and far- right organizations in the United Kingdom rejected. After the horrible attack, members of the so-called national action group tweeted out comments like: “only 649 MPs to go” or, talking about Jo Coxe´s assassin: “Vote Leave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain.
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50834833
Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!” Due to the group’s openly anti-Semitic statements and call for violence, it is expected to be labeled as a terrorist organization by the parliament. The neo- Nazi group lately made headlines by setting up a “whites only” soup kitchen in Glasgow. Although the police attended the event, it did not intervene since nothing illegal took place. For many people, however, the “charity” was an open provocation: “These people are fascists who prey on the most vulnerable,” said solicitor Aamer Anwar. “Homelessness is not caused by refugees fleeing war torn countries nor is it caused by ethnic minorities. These wannabe ‘master race’ types have no place in Scotland – one look at their website reveals their true intentions.”
The United Kingdom has traditionally welcomed a vast rage of international citizens due to its colonial past, which understandably has also created some tensions. UKIP´s whole anti Europe campaign, after all, was dealing with the immigration issue and can be said to have hugely influenced Brexit voters. Traditionally poorer areas of the country that have little job opportunities for foreigners and therefore a white- British majority living there, usually are more likely to be racist have more neo- Nazi groups than big cities. This doesn´t mean however that only because you don´t know something you have the right to discriminate or damage it. Like in every other country, neo- Nazism is a real threat that actually endangers our democracy. As the example of Joe Cox sadly proofs, in extreme occasion’s extremist’s don´t even hesitate to kill an innocent mother of two little children. The irony in all of this lies in the fact that the United Kingdome was the major force against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Winston Churchill’s famous war speech ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’ against Hitler Germany seems to be forgotten by the far- right movement. Instead of trying to imitate an ideology of the past that their ancestry fought against, national action group members should stop to terrorize people that are actually trying to make all of our lives better.
“This is England” is the acclaimed film directed by Shane Maddows. It deals with the skinhead and far right culture of the 1980´s in the UK. The story turns around twelve year old Shaun, who doesn´t have an easy life. The boy lost his father in the Falkland wars and gets bullied in school. He eventually finds a friend in Woody and his skinhead gang. Although seeming rough from the outside, the group is not really dangerous and more interested hanging out and smoking weed than anything else. Shaun becomes an accepted member of the gang, due to which he also has his first love interest with a girl (the scene in which Shaun makes out with a much older girl is the by far the most disturbing sequence of the whole movie). Up to that point “This is England” is a normal film and I found myself repeatedly in the situation of double checking if I was watching the right movie, since nothing seemed to be linked to my area of interest (Nazism today). Everything changes, both for the story and for the audience, with the arrival of Combo, an older Skinhead, who is just released from prison. Combo manages very quickly to convince some members of the group- one of them being Shaun. to follow his more aggressive and now openly racist strategies. The skinhead groups is now under a new leadership, terrorizes local Pakistani grocery stores and spends its time to spray racist graffiti on walls. As the film goes by the viewer becomes an insight into Combo´s personality and his struggle with rejection and lack of love. In a very powerful scene towards the end of the film, Combo almost kills a group member because he lives in a stable social environment. Due to this incident, Shaun understands the superficiality and brutality of the movement and decides to turn his back on it.
I have to say that the film really touched me. “This is England” is an intelligent piece that deals very effectively with the issue of racism and white supremacy in the United Kingdome. At a specific point of the movie, one of the skinheads said “we are not Nazis- we are nationalists”- which I found very interesting since my last blog post did just deal with the issue of nationalism which can be compared to the rise of fascism as far as I am concerned. This becomes even clearer at a scene where the group attends a speech which is comparable to Goebbels famous speech at the end of the second world war (“Do you want the total war… ?). At the end it becomes clear that the reason for Combo´s racist and hostile views and actions is a lack of love, which he tries to receive through a group that is in the exact same situation. Shaun fits in this scheme because he has found a father figure in Combo but at the end, he realises that he is better off on his own. The film, finally, can be summed up with a quote by Leon Brown: “A lack of love is the cause for most problems in life, when love is missing, nothing can flourish, only pain thrives.”
The rise of fascism in Germany and Italy after World War I is an interesting issue. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were capable of addressing problems of post war societies that other parties were not able to resolve. As Germany, Italy was a young country (united in 1861) which struggled with social and economic problems such as inflation between the two world wars. Authoritarian and nationalistic parties like the German Nazi party or the Italian fasci di combattimento did attract people and ultimately came to power not because of their racist or antisemitic actions but because they were able to propagate basic human needs like safety and control- a human instinct that hasn´t changed since.
In the last few years we were able to see a slow rise of nationalism and xenophobia in Europe and the United States that should be concerning to everyone. The fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, running a campaign that was largely based on the threat of building a wall to stop illegal immigration deriving from Mexico (an idea that for every European citizen old enough to remember the cold war is shocking) is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been other significant developments in the last years up to today, however, that are as alarming although they might not get as much media attention. One of those events was the presidential election in Austria last year between Norbert Hofer ans Alexader Vanderbellen.
Although Vanderbellen ultimately was elected President of Austria, right wing candidate Hofer lost only due to a small percentage. As Trump in the Unites States, Hofer was asking for a similar Muslim ban as well as a new relationship with the European Union. Austria´s big neighbor, Germany, on the other hand has seen a rise of the far right Alternative for Germany party (Alternative für Deutschland, ASD) and Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) organization. Marine Le Pen, the French far right candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, has become a serious alternative to established parties by arguing against the European Union and in favor of a strong nationalistic France state. The United Kingdome, with its last year vote to leave the European Union and threat to insert more severe restrictions for European citizens, seems to perfectly fit into the current situation as well.
The late immigration crisis in Europe seems to have advantaged many right and anti- immigration parties and organizations because, as we have seen before with the example of Hitler and Mussolini, they pretend to know the answers to difficult questions and seduce people by setting up a bubble of false security. Even in the traditional more socialist and liberal north of Europe, a growing number of far right groups seem to terrorize people. Swedish Neo- Nazi organization Nordfront recently was accused of threatening a Jewish center up to the point the members did not dare to visit it any longer. So what is going on in Europa and North- America? There is a difference between fascism and nationalism, yes, but considering how both German and Italian dictatorial movements started out and comparing some of their basic principles like blaming certain groups or organizations for the misery of the country (today it would be the EU and illegal immigrants), we have to be very careful that history is not going to be repeated soon.
One of my earlier blog posts was about director Leni Riefenstahl, who is responsible for the most famous propaganda movie about the Third Reich- The triumph of the will. Scenes of marching masses and swastika flags have become part of our cultural knowledge thanks to Riefenstahl’s film lens. Therefore, I have decided to watch the whole film yesterday- not an easy thig to do I can tell you. The movie itself is rather boring from a modern perspective. It covers five days of the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934, with which Hitler wanted to show the nation how strong and united the new political leaders of Germany are. The film becomes much more interesting, however, considering that it is made as if was a documentary.
Riefenstahl herself always claimed that it was a pure historical document of its time; as if she just placed the camera and let it roll. Obviously, that is not case which makes the movie so seductive and ultimately dangerous. According Riefenstahl biograph Steven Bach, some of the scenes in the film were filmed after the actual party congress in a studio in Berlin. The fact that “The triumph of the will” does not have a voiceover was a reason for the director to claim that the movie could never be a propaganda film since it only shows actual pictures. Riefenstahl seems to forget, however, that she is a master of cutting images and putting the right music over them. The film doesn´t need any voiceover to express Riefenstahl’s adoration for the Führer. Camera shots of Hitler are always taken from below, which created an image of majesty and superiority- the so-called “Hitler myth”. Right from the beginning, it becomes clear that Hitler is the only protagonists of the film, adored by its followers and the masses. At the start of the film, we see him arrive in an airplane to Nuremberg, descending from the clouds. As Bach points out, this creates a good like image. With Wagner’s music, those sequences become very dramatic, creating an emotional environment.
The film was very important to Hitler and his party because of its closest and most powerful members had just been killed a few month before. Ersnt Röhm was the leader of the SA paramilitary group and Nazi- member since the first hour. For Riefenstahl´s first film about the Nazi party rally in 1933, Hitler and Röhm still divided the stage being equally important for the movement- a fact that didn´t work for Hitler´s “one leader only” mentality, due to which he assassinated Röhm. The documentary in part had the purpose to underline that the party was still behind Hitler, united under one single leader. All theses aspects must have been known to Riefenstahl, which make it very difficult to believe that the movie is supposed to be a simple documentary. Interestingly enough, it was not only awarded with prices in Germany and Italy, but also with the gold medal at the world fair in Paris in 1937. The triumph of the will had a huge impact on modern propaganda movies and it never lost its attraction, which ultimately make it very dangerous up to this day.
Donald Trump made headlines earlier this year for comparing American intelligent agencies to Nazi Germany. This statement received a lot of criticism, mostly from CIA director Jhon Brennan who called Trump´s words outrageous: “Now that he’s going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he’s going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that US and national security interests are protected”, Brennan said. As Brennan, most people found the president´s statement very dangerous. Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called his comments “a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world”. According to author Ron Rosenbaum, on the other hand, there can be made a comparison between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler itself.
Both men “bluffed” their way to power using demagogic and populist methods, mostly by spreading false statements about the current political establishment. Clearly, there can be made a certain comparison between one man and the other but Trump over all seems more like a parody of the German dictator; thank good. Let´s not forget, also, that Donald Trump faces serious problem with his political agenda in the US and divides the whole nation when it comes to oppose or support his agenda. For Hitler this situation was very different, having had the back of the majority of the nation when he came to power. One particular parallel, however, seems to be rather concerning- the way the 45. President of the United States is treating the press in the country. “Fake news” has become a current expression in the vocabulary of the Trump administration. The fact that the president refuses to talk to reporters and call them out of being false and misleading is pretty concerning. Adolf Hitler, on the other hand put Journalists into concentration camps, threatened media representatives and shot newspapers down. Trumps way of dealing with the press clearly is far from being presidential, but at the same time, how many leaders in the free world do have complicated relationships with news representatives. From Silvio Berlusconi to Wladimir Putin, the list of democratic elected leaders who have opposed the press, sometimes with illegal methods, is rather impressive.
But can they, therefore, all be compared to Hitler and Nazi Germany? According to Ron Rosenbaum, the parallel’s, in Trumps case, are there: “Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German,” said Mr. Rosenbaum, “The playbook is Mein Kampf.” I personally wouldn´t go as far as the author. Yes, Trump might be a populist and certain members of his cabinet might have a controversial background (White House chief- strategists Steve Bannon had to face criticism for being editor of the ult- right Breitbart web side), but there is still a difference between calling journalists fake news and killing them. After all, the United States do have a free press with all its problems and issues; but its free at last. The comparison to a killing dictator might therefore sell books and get attention but is far from being true.
I first came across Leni Riefenstahl whilst doing my undergraduate degree in Milan, which focused on the work of Luis Trenker, an alpinist and film director of the 1920´s and 30´s who was briefly involved with Riefenstahl. From the moment I read about the German filmmaker and photographer, I started to be both scared and fascinated by her at the same time. My Master´s dissertation, in fact, is going to be about her probably most famous documentary “The Triumph of the will”- according to some scholars, the most famous documentary film of all time. It is largely due to Riefenstahl`s documentaries about the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934 that most people have a similar, at least visual, perception of Nazi Germany. The images of marching Nazi´s as well as Hitler speaking to the crowd taken by Leni Riefenstahl have become part of popular culture.
The reason I have chosen Riefenstahl for this entry is because she is considered to be a highly controversial figure that helps to understand that extremism is not simply black and white but more complicated. Leni Riefenstahl was never an official member of the Nazi party, although she obviously gained certain privileges due to her position as Hitler´s favorite director. At the end of the Second World War, she faced legal consequences for her role within third Reich ad was ultimately condemned of being a follower of the regime but not responsible for any crime. As Riefenstahl stated herself in the documentary, “The wonderful horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl” by Ray Müller, she didn´t know about the criminal activities in Germany at the time and ultimately hasn´t killed anybody. At the same time, the film director was accused of using gipsy´s from a concentration camp as statists for her film “Tiefland”. Whether Riefenstahl knew about concentration camps and millions of Jews being killed, is very difficult to answer but she clearly did enjoy the privileges her special position provided her.
The most interesting part for me, however, is that Leni Riefenstahl never publicly admitted to being aware of any responsibility. Yes, it´s true that she might not have killed another human being but trough her films she clearly paved the way for Hitler and his regime. It is this lack of critical understanding, of guilt so to speak, that is missing. Neither in her almost thousand pages log autobiography nor in any of her interviews did she express any sorrow; on the contrary. When asked by German television journalist Sandra Maischberger in 2002 about any regrets, Riefenstahl, 100 years at the time, claimed that she would have done the same work she did for Hitler, for Stalin or Churchill. This opportunistic behavior was one of the major points of criticism Riefenstahl had to face. For all her life, she never got rid of the title of “Hitler´s favorite” film director, which stopped her career as a filmmaker by the end of world war II. Even her photographs of the Nuba tribe in Africa led Susan Sontag to write her famous essay “Fascinating Fascism” in which she accused Riefenstahl of having created a fascist astaticism. As far as I am concerned, Leni Riefenstahl serves as a good example of how easy it is to fall for extremism of any kind. Her lack of consciousness and glorification of Hitler through her movies make not a war criminal out of her but certainly a very ambiguous personality.
My entry today is going to be about one of the most controversial books in history, which at the same time can be seen as cornerstone of Nazi- ideology; of course, I am talking about Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. After 70 years the copyright of the book, hold by Bavarian authorities, has expired, which preoccupied many people, fearing that a new wave of right- extremism would threaten democracy. The new and edited version, which includes a critical analysis and commentary of 4000 books, has been sold out in a breathtakingly fast amount of time. To censor the book, in my opinion, would not be a problem- solving approach since it would possible create a certain aura of glamor and glory.
To critically analyze it and in that way to deconstruct Mein Kampf is certainly a much more effective way to hinder possible neo- Nazis to get affected by this highly seductive piece of work. As James Butler states in his article “People are buying Mein Kampf: Should we be panicking?” audiences have to be very careful with Mein Kampf and although hButlere is against censorship e suggested an attentive reading of the material. But why are people at this day and age still scared of a book, written 70 years ago, which in most aspects is rather primitively written and at least doesn’t hide its anti-Semite and anti- Bolshevist message. As far as I am concerned, it has much to do with the fear that people still see Nazism as something evil from the past that has happened but at the same time will stay there and does not concern our modern society anymore. If people think about the third Reich, it seems that they link Nazi- ideology always to Germany and treat it as something that could have happened only during this particular time and under particular conditions. The issue here is that Nazism and the hateful ideology of
The issue here is that Nazism and the hateful ideology of Mein Kampf in particular, cannot be seen as something solely evil and stay somewhere on its own but has always to be linked to humankind in general- it´s our product, and our burden. If we really want to unmask Hitler`s famous autobiography, we, first of all, must admit that his horrendous arguments against certain races and geographical areas are as part of our society nowadays as love and understanding for everyone are. As Terrence already said: ”Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” (I am human, and I think that nothing that is human is alien to me). It does not help anybody if we censor or even prohibit dangerous literature but at the same time, we understandably have to be very careful with it. I do think that books and films can be terribly seductive and led people to do wrong things, which in the case of neo- Nazism is clearly the case. At the same time, I think that it is important that we all understand that what has happened in Nazi Germany is not a relic of the past but can happen every time again. It should be our goal to create a social environment in which dangerous and hateful literature and books like Mein Kampf have its space but at the same time do not affect people because the simply know better.