Posts tagged ‘hitler’

October 27, 2010

The Hitler icon: How Mount Athos honored the Führer

THERE IS A PIOUS notion out there that organized religion, if practiced devoutly enough, can preserve human beings from immoral thoughts and actions, particularly those stemming from the seductions of supposedly secular political ideologies. The Protestants have their “mighty fortress” of Lutheran song and liturgy, the Catholics have their eternal Vatican, and the Greek Orthodox Church preserves its theological purity in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, “the Garden of the Virgins,” on a peninsula in northern Greece, where all females – including dogs and cats – are banished from the premises so as to protect the monks from any impure sensations.* However, even the most cursory glance at the historical record reveals that the devout are not only as likely as anyone else to fall for a totalitarian…


February 19, 2010

Just a dumb blonde? A new look at Eva Braun

SHE IS THE WORLD’S most famous dumb blonde, the ultimate victim of personal stupidity. It was not just her hair color that made her reputation, but also her very name: Braun/Brown is one of the most ordinary in any European language, and reflected the brown of the Nazi Party uniform. And if there is anything everybody can agree on, it is that she got what was coming to her.

That’s the cliché that the “History” Channel and dozens of poorly researched biographies have served up to us for the past sixty-five years. But was there more to Eva Braun? German historian Heike Görtemacher, whose new biography of Hitler’s intellectually challenged mistress hits bookshops this month, certainly thinks so…


December 4, 2009

Happy 106th birthday, Johannes Heesters!

Johannes Heesters, 1903-

WHILE IT IS NOT exactly what the Germans call a “round birthday,” by the time you turn 106 every birthday is something to celebrate. This time it is the turn of the Dutch-Austrian singer and actor Johannes Heesters. He is not only the world’s oldest active stage performer, he is also one of Europe’s most controversial.

Heesters was born in Amersfoort, Netherlands on December 5, 1903. As a child he dreamed of becoming a priest. He later embarked on a banking apprencticeship before discovering his true vocation as a performer. At the age of sixteen he began to study music and acting, appearing on the stage for the first time in 1921. His film debut followed in 1924 as a supporting actor in the Dutch movie Cirque Hollandais. But silent movies could not satisfy the young tenor’s ambitions and Heesters continued to seek stage roles. In 1927 he auditioned for the German band leader Harry Frommermann, who would subsequently found the fabled “Comedian Harmonists,” but refused to sign a contract when Frommermann told him that he would not receive a wage for the first several months. Heesters landed his first major role on stage in 1930 and went on to become an accomplished operetta singer, debuting at the Vienna Volksoper in 1934…


November 10, 2009

Day of destiny: Germany and November 9

Berlin Wall

FOR AS LONG AS there have been calendars, specific dates have marked significant historical and spiritual events in their respective societies. The Americans celebrate their independence on the fourth of July, the French mark the storming of the Bastille on the fourteenth of July, and the British commemorate the infamous Gunpowder Plot on the fifth of November. Every other country – and just about every religion – also celebrates certain days that changed the world. New dates can appear at any moment. In today’s America, the magic date of 9/11 now trumps all others and determines much of our national identity. Germany is no exception to this phenomenon, although it is unique for having one day in its national calendar so pregnant with meaning that they have a special name for it: der Schicksalstag der Deutschen (the fateful day of the Germans). They mark this day not on 9/11 but on 11/9, i.e. on November 9. The events that have occurred on this day span the entire spectrum of human experience, from defeat to shame, from the profoundest horror to redemption and rebirth. It is the date itself that ties these seemingly random events into a neat package and gives both structure and an astonishing level of meaning to one of the most turbulent histories any nation has ever experienced – and inflicted on the rest of the world. It wasn’t always this way, but November 9, 1848 happened to be the day that German revolutionary Robert Blum was executed by firing squad in Vienna. His death at the hand of reactionary Austrian soldiers marked the symbolic defeat of the Revolution of 1848, which set the cause of German democracy back by generations. Exactly sixty years later, as a new rebellion broke out among the soldiers and sailors of the defeated German Empire … Continued…

October 30, 2009

“Metropolis” lives! The return of a cinematic masterpiece


EVERYBODY HAS SEEN THE images, but how many have sat through the whole thing? In 1927, Fritz Lang first unleashed his 204 minute-long studio-busting sci-fi flick Metropolis on the public, the answer is “precious few.” It bombed at its opening in Berlin on January 10 of that year and it did little better in a somewhat shortened version that premiered in Stuttgart and Munich on August 25. It was not until Paramount Pictures took mercy on this beached whale of a would-be epic, hired scriptwriter Channing Pollock to cut it way down to a form that at least Americans could swallow, that the film finally started to attract an audience. “Metropolis knew no boundaries and had no logic,” Pollock later explained. “I gave it my own meaning.” This version, running to around an hour and a half, became the one the world would proceed to call Metropolis, a movie that everyone knew about but hardly anyone actually liked.

Sure, the visuals were always stunning – visionary even (director Luis Bunuel called it “the most wonderful picture book you could imagine”) – but good visuals do not a good movie make. The generally poor film quality we usually got to see on late-night public TV was one stroke against it, and the even worse (and widely divergent) soundtracks were another. But most of all, the egregiously dysfunctional story of Freder Fredersen, the naïve but courageous son of the great city’s lord and master, and the Christ-like figure of Maria, the prophet of Metropolis’s vast proletarian underground population, whose implausible love for each other brings the two seemingly irreconcilable classes together, seemed both cloying and downright insulting. As one critic wrote in the Berliner Börsen-Courier the morning after the 1927 premiere, “[Screenwriter] Thea von Harbou has invented a preposterous plot whose motifs are stuffed to the gills. (…) She continually works with hollow feelings. Horrible. A serious topic is transformed into gruesome kitsch. [It is filled with] special effects, not because ideologies themselves cause explosions, but because the film wants to show off its tricks. The conclusion – the tearful reconciliation of employer and employee – [is] appalling.” …


October 2, 2009

Condom Kaiser: The tragic fate of inventor Julius Fromm

Fromms Act - The world's first brand-name latex condom

Fromms Act - The world's first brand-name latex condom

VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY USES THEM from time to time, but few people are aware of the uplifting and ultimately heart-breaking story that lies behind the world’s most widespread – if not always most loved – contraceptive device: the seamless latex condom.

A new book is about to correct this shortcoming in the English-speaking world. Fromms: How Julius Fromm’s Condom Empire Fell to the Nazis by historian Götz Aly and Spiegel editor Michael Sontheimer is scheduled to appear in American bookshops later this month (the original German-language version appeared in 2007). Aly and Sontheimer have written not just a biography of a man and his revolutionary creation, but also of an era: the rise of a new Jewish middle class in central Europe around 1900 and its subsequent “Aryanization” and extermination at the hands of the Nazi Party.

Humble beginnings

Julius Fromm was born in 1883 as Israel From to a poor eastern Jewish family in the Polish shtetl of Konin, which at that time belonged to the Russian Empire. A decade later the family of eight fled the poverty and hopelessness of anti-Semitic Russia to Germany’s boomtown capital, Berlin. There the family settled in the “Scheunenviertel,” the city’s predominantly Jewish immigrant slum near Alexanderplatz, where they eked out an existence rolling cigarettes at home and selling them in local bars. …


September 29, 2009

Did Adolf Hitler survive the Bunker after all?

Were reports of Hitler’s death “greatly exaggerated”?
Cover of
Time Magazine, May 7, 1945

BACK WHEN I WAS growing up, Hitler sightings were a running joke, a semi-comical preview of the Elvis and Jacko sightings that haunt our tabloids today. I still have a vivid memory of one such story in the National Enquirer. The front page depicted a wrinkled, grizzled ex-Führer hiding out in Argentina. According to the Enquirer, Hitler had been the driving force behind the recent Falklands War and was now on the run yet again. This came just a couple of years after the appearance of The Boys from Brazil starring poor old Gregory Peck as Josef Mengele in the most thankless role he ever let himself get talked into playing. These sightings finally dried up around 1989, when Hitler passed the hundred mark, and I thought we were well rid of them. But now that new evidence has surfaced challenging the standard version of Hitler’s suicide in the Reich Chancellery Bunker in April of 1945, you would be well advised to fasten your seatbelt and prepare for a Hitler sighting renaissance.

A scoop to die for

The sudden upsurge in online speculation about Hitler’s true fate has been provoked by a History Channel documentary called Hitler’s Escape, which was first aired on September 26. It promises to be the scoop of the young century. For the making of the film, American archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni from the University of Connecticut flew to the Moscow State Archive to examine a skull fragment with a bullet hole through it that the Russian government has been publicly claiming belonged to Hitler since 2000. Bellantoni swabbed the bone fragment and had the genetic material analyzed at a laboratory back home in New England. His examination revealed it to be not that of the fifty-six year-old dictator but rather the remains of a young woman.  …


September 10, 2009

How Pat Buchanan is rehabilitating Hitler

Nazi soldier executing Polish civilians:
Was it all Britain’s  fault…?

WHEN PAT BUCHANAN’S RECENT op-ed piece commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II hit newspapers on September 1, those of us who follow such things largely assumed it was merely a delusional but marginal essay that would quickly slip under the radar to a well-deserved oblivion. As the days pass, however, “Did Hitler want war?” has taken on a life of its own and can be found splattered all across the Internet, garnering over 6,000 Google hits and counting. When I posted my own retrospective on the Polish invasion for OS that same day, I did so in the hope that we had all finally put the debates of past decades behind us. Instead, Buchanan’s piece demonstrates that in many people’s minds “Case White” (the Nazis’ codename for the invasion) is as wide open as ever.

Buchanan’s basic argument in the piece (essentially a digest of his recent book Churchill, Hitler and ‘The Unnecessary War,’ which is itself a rehash of A.J.P. Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War from 1961) is that the German invasion of Poland and the ensuing Second World War with its tens of millions of deaths were not the consequence of Adolf Hitler’s own policies but rather the fault of the British, French, and Polish governments…


September 8, 2009

Is Obama Hitler? A historical fact check on “black Nazis”

With the health care debate and the metastazation of the “Obama is Hitler” meme reaching a crescendo, I decided to repost my August 10 article on the fate of Africans and biracial people in the Third Reich. While I obviously don’t expect a mere fact check like this to influence the discourse, if just one or two people on this planet would start to feel even a little bit ashamed about the self-serving nonsense they’ve been dishing up over the past several months then I’ll feel like I’ve done my good deed for the year.

IN A RECENT ESSAY, Salon editor Joan Walsh asks in dismay whether “our first black president [is] a ‘Nazi’?” After being exposed to the increasingly frantic political rhetoric enveloping President Obama’s health care reform proposals, one is tempted to believe that he is. None other than Rush Limbaugh has pointed out that “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate,” taking care to remind us that Obama has adopted a health care reform logo closely modeled on the Nazi Party emblem.

Well, I guess that about clinches it – for many of us, at least. Now I have already presented my own reasons why Obama isn’t Hitler elsewhere, and I’ll leave the comparisons between the President’s actual policies and those of the National Socialist dictatorship to the subtle minds that congregate on talk radio. What interests me is the term “black Nazi” itself. It sounds impressive enough, but just what does it mean? Yes, I know – in itself it means nothing at all. As George Orwell once wrote, “The word Fascism has now no meaning, except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” Or perhaps Lewis Carrol’s Humpty-Dumpty had a better grasp of today’s politics: “‘When I use a word,'” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less.'” But just for fun, let us imagine for a moment that words actually do have some sort of verifiable meaning, and that terms taken from history have… well, a history of their own. So what attitude did actual members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – the fabled “Nazis” of American political punditry – display towards people of African origin? And what are the chances that a man like Barack Obama – the biracial offspring of a black Kenyan man and a white American woman – would feel any affinity for the NSDAP and its doctrines?…


September 1, 2009

It began with a lie: Remembering September 1, 1939


THEY ATTACKED THE RADIO station at eight p.m. sharp. A half dozen German SS men dressed as Polish partisans burst into the broadcasting house beside the wooden radio tower near the Silesian town of Gleiwitz and trussed up its German staff. Then one of the men barked a brief speech into the microphone: Achtung! Achtung! This is Gleiwitz. The station is in Polish hands. … The moment of freedom has arrived! … Long live Poland!” To give the stunt an authentic feel, the agents had brought with them a local German dissident who had been arrested by the Gestapo a day earlier. They  dressed him in the same kind of clothes they were wearing, shoved a set of forged Polish identity papers into his pocket, pumped him full of narcotics, and shot him dead, leaving his corpse behind as “evidence” of this “cowardly Polish attack” on German soil. Their work done, the gang then beat a hasty retreat.

The Gleiwitz attack was just one out of some twenty-one false flag operations dubbed “Operation Himmler” that the SS launched on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Poland. After six years in power, Adolf Hitler was still uncertain of his people’s loyalty, let alone that of his General Staff. “The war will be unleashed through appropriate propaganda,” he had told his commanders a week earlier. “Credibility is of no concern, because victory will make it right.” The next morning, in the early hours of September 1, 1939, he hurled 1.5 million soldiers at Poland’s porous borders. (They would be joined by Red Army forces attacking from the east on September 17). Then at a few minutes past ten, a seemingly outraged Hitler proclaimed to the Reichstag and a nationwide radio audience that “Last night Poland fired on our territory for the first time using regular soldiers. Since 5:45, we have been shooting back. From now on, we will pay them back, bomb by bomb!”

The war began with a lie. Almost six years and sixty million deaths later, it ended with one, too, when the Greater German Radio announced that “our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen this afternoon in his command post in the Reich Chancellery fighting to his last breath against Bolshevism.” In reality, he and Eva Braun had committed suicide to avoid facing the consequences of his actions…