Uber alles

February 14, 2009

As though the economy weren’t enough to worry about, Germany is involved in a controversy over re-publication of news stories from the period of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. If I understand this correctly, the Allied Powers gave the copyright of much of this material to the State of Bavaria, and Bavaria does not grant permission to republish it. But a British publisher decided to ignore the copyright issue and distribute a collection of articles, including an account of the burning of the Reichstag in 1933, the incident that gave Hitler the excuse he needed to assume dictatorial powers. We all know how that worked out.

Agents of the German government is going around seizing copies of the second weekly edition of the reprints, but 250,000 copies of the first issue have been sold already. One complaint the government has is that the first issue included a Nazi poster in which a large swastika was visible. Images of the swastika have been prohibited in Germany since the end of World War II. Another complaint is that the articles are not accompanied by any commentary that might be helpful for those who do not know the legacy of  National Socialism.

The broader rationale for stifling these reproductions is that neo-Nazis could use them to further their goals.

Poor people. Poor, poor people who carry such a burden and try to make it lighter by surrendering their fundamental rights. Poor people who forget or never knew the “Action Against the Un-German Spirit” and its blazing festival in May 1933 – 25,000 books burned in one day, more than a quarter of a million burned before the Thousand Year Reich came to a premature end, all to “purify” the Fatherland and rid it of “Jewish intellectualism.”

“The future German man will not be a man just of books,” Joseph Goebbels told a mob of students at the May bonfire, “but a man of character.”

Or perhaps, Germany would rather forget that too.